Consider Taking The Gym Outdoors

A Professor's Perspective On Current Events

Professor Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, Ph.D.
By Professor Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, Ph.D.

Hitting the gym today? Consider going outside instead. Professor Kimberlee Bethany Bonura discusses the health advantages of being outside.

This article originally premiered on The New York Times.

Let’s talk about a Fit Enough plan for your life this summer. Let go of an externally imposed vision of a swimsuit ready body. Instead of focusing on getting your body beach-and-pool ready, shift your perspective. Consider this: whatever you wear when you hit the beach (although, please, cover up and wear a high-quality SPF!), time outside is GOOD for you.

Research consistently shows that exercise has a wide-range of physical health benefits (like reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes) and psychological benefits (like improving mood, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression). Would you be surprised to learn that exercise outside is even BETTER for you?

One recent Austrian study found that even though outdoor mountain hiking was more strenuous (as measured via heart rate) than an indoor walk on a treadmill or time searching the internet, both indoor and outdoor walking left people feeling happier than computer time, and they were happiest after walking outside. (source: NY Times.)

One large scale study of almost 2000 people found that group outdoor walking significantly improved psychological health. A  research review found that across multiple studies, when comparing outdoor versus indoor exercise, people experienced increases in revitalization, energy, and positive engagement, and decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression.

This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.

The Japanese practice of Shinrinyoku, roughly translated as “forest bathing,” is about getting outside in nature, where the benefits of fresh air and green things can improve your health and well-being. One study found that a three-day, two-night trip to a forested area improved immune function for a month after the visit.

Another research review found increasing evidence for gardening as a mental health intervention. (This 2012 article from The Atlantic offers insight into how microbes in dirt can improve health.)

It’s summer, and the weather’s beautiful. Skip the gym. Go for a walk with friends: you’ll feel better!

For more with Professor Bonura, check out How To Make Stress Work For You,” on The Great Courses Plus!