This article is written in collaboration with Naluri.
31.1% of adults worldwide are physically inactive. Declination in outdoor activities is attributed to urbanization, including technological advances through the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and more recently, the digital revolution. The focus of much structured physical activity nowadays has also shifted to gymnasiums, sports halls and home than outdoors.
However, what we often overlook is that natural environments offer many benefits for well-being and stress recovery. Spending leisure time in a green environment has positive effects on perceived mental and general health. Furthermore, nature and green spaces offer an inexpensive resource for enhancing physical activity and thus reducing stress-associated and lifestyle-related disorders such as the burnout syndrome, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.
How does nature promote health
Nature provides an environmental setting for activity/exercise, which promotes increased physical activity. This lead to improved physical fitness and health. The evidence that exercise and physical activity have positive impacts on health is well established. There is also some evidence that physical activity can have positive benefits for mental health such as lowering depression.
Nature provides particular environmental stimuli to allow restoration from attention fatigue, which occurs during the performance of cognitive tasks that require prolonged maintenance of directed attention. This includes your everyday task like driving, office work, reading and such. Nature has the restorative qualities that promote feelings of ‘being away’ from routine activities and the natural environment attract our attention without the need for us to give an effort.
Nature allows stress recovery through our natural responses to the characteristics of the natural environments such as spatial openness, the presence of pattern or structure, and water features. The perception of these characteristics is believed to trigger positive emotional reactions related to safety and survival.
What benefit does nature provide
Over the years, scientists have shown that nature can provide stress relief, increase social interaction, encourage physical exercise and even help soothe mental illness. Exercising outdoors was discovered to be more beneficial to mental health over indoor activities and furthermore, natural environments have a greater impact on psychological health especially when exercise is incorporated. The benefits of green exercises are undoubtedly many, including the followings:
Improve motivation to exercise
It is an effective method in promoting lifestyle changes by improving adherence rates to exercise programme. Green exercise may help motivate physical activity by increasing enjoyment and escapism from everyday life, along with a social and entertainment value.
There is even some evidence to suggest that exercise may feel easier when performed in the natural environment. When allowed to self-select walking speed, participants tend to walk faster outdoors, compared to indoors. Paradoxically, they report a lower rating of perceived exertion, suggesting they perceive exercise to be less demanding when performed in the natural environment.
Enhance mental health
Further evidence shows that exercising outdoors can improve mood and perception of effort appears to be reduced with greenness. All types of green exercise activities also improve self-esteem and reduce negative mood such as tension, anger and depression. Interestingly, the first five minutes of green exercise appears to have the biggest impact on mood and self-esteem, suggesting an immediate psychological health benefit.
Improve physiological outcomes
Physiological outcomes including heart rate, blood pressure and autonomic control (using heart rate variability) and endocrine markers including noradrenaline, adrenaline and cortisol (an objective measure of stress) improved with green exercise. Exposure to nature increase arousal and attention capacity with observed increases in heart rate. The increase of heart rate variability also indicates the adaptability of the nervous system in responding to challenges experienced by an individual such as stress and exercise.
Natural killer cell activity increased for up to 30 days after a three-day trip to a forest for males but only seven days for females. This suggests that interaction with nature does not have to be very long to gain wide-ranging physiological health benefits.
We work hard towards preserving nature and making sure that our earth stays as a safe and healthy place for us to live in. But consider the saying by Jim Rohn “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live”. Hence, appreciate yourself and your body as much as mother nature deserved to be appreciated.
Engaging in physical activity outdoors provides health benefits that are not available indoor. Alongside the social aspect which some individuals crave, it may also increase enjoyment and adherence to bring about positive behaviour changes in a large proportion of the population. Thus, exercise within green spaces and the great outdoors may be a useful natural medicine to address health challenges. The great outdoors, therefore, should not be just considered a playground for those who seek the thrills of extreme sports, but the space for all.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Naluri – Pioneering next generation digital therapeutics combining behavioural science, data science and digital design to build the mental resilience needed to achieve your goals and overcome life’s challenges that stand in your way.
Review Date: August 30, 2018 | Last Modified: October 31, 2018
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