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Let's take it outside! Go green with your fitness routine and make use of the great outdoors

‘In today’s world of technology, long office hours and stressful lifestyles, it’s as if we have all forgotten how to play,’ writes Sarah Cremen.

Image: Shutterstock/Stefan Schurr

“NATURE IS THE physician of disease” — Hippocrates.

I am probably equal parts gym rat and tree-hugging hippy and while I love the barbells and buzz of the gym, the pull of the great outdoors is omnipresent.

It’s like stepping into a world that was designed to play and move freely in. With so many health and fitness articles focusing on workouts and programmes for indoor facilities, I thought it might be nice to change it up and touch on the benefits of taking your training outside.

Most of us are aware of how important regular exercise is to our health and wellbeing, but there is an expanding body of evidence to suggest that spending time in nature will also improve our health. So why not kill two birds with one stone and reap both the psychological and physiological benefits?

The healing power of nature is one of the guiding principles of Hippocratic medicine. Outdoor movement is intrinsically linked to humanity and has always been viewed as an essential factor in maintaining and restoring one’s health. However, in today’s world of technology, long office hours and stressful lifestyles, it’s as if we have all forgotten how to play.

shutterstock_282089642 Source: Shutterstock/SpeedKingz

Despite an abundance of indoor training facilities, sedentary lifestyles and behaviours are more prevalent than ever. How did the generations preceding us maintain (superior) fitness levels without gyms on every other street corner? The physical capacity of the younger generations is consistently in decline and it’s a sad state of affairs considering that there are opportunities to engage in fun and stimulating physical activity all around us.

If you don’t have exclusively performance or aesthetic training goals, if your goals include general health, fitness and well being — think about incorporating a variety of environments/movements/modalities into your current regime. Get out of the confines of the four walls of the gym; get outside and restore your focus, improve your cognitive function, relax and make yourself a little happier.

  • Improve your mood

Moving and physical activity has a tendency to make us feel better. We all know that feeling — you drag yourself into the gym, tired and cranky, only to bounce out an hour later, dopamine and endorphins flowing freely. Exercising outdoors can increase this effect further, producing improvements in mood and self esteem beyond that of just exercise alone.

You don’t need to climb Kilimanjaro to reap the rewards — the greatest psychological benefit has been shown to occur in the first five minutes of activity. So, even small doses and short bouts are enough for a measurable benefit to your mind. If you already use physical activity as a stress reliever, adding in some movement and time in the great outdoors may result in even more bang for your buck.

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  • Variety and fun for greater consistency

Needless to say, the environment you spend time in has a substantial effect on how you feel – if you don’t feel good, what you’re doing will feel harder. If what you’re doing feels harder, you’re less likely to stick with it. Think about it — why is it that a brisk hour walk by the sea or a hike in the mountains is pleasurable and therapeutic, yet walking on a treadmill for 60 minutes at 7km/ph feels arduous, monotonous… 15 minutes in and you’re ready to throw in the towel? Your rate of perceived exertion is higher due to the fact that your environment sucks!

It’s incredibly difficult to enjoy what you’re doing when what you’re doing is mind-numbingly boring. Physical activity should have some element of fun, play and variety…and working out in a natural environment provides just that. You’re forced to pay attention to your surroundings; unknown territory, undulating surfaces, trails, mountains, woods…you can’t afford to simply go through the motions, mindlessly plug away on the cross trainer, staring blankly at a TV monitor. The change from our usually urban environment heightens our awareness and provides much needed stimulation for body and mind.

In my article two weeks ago, I talked about creating a positive feedback loop with exercise — “I put healthy choices in, I get positive results out”. Despite increasing efforts to make the general public aware, physical activity levels continue to decline. With consistency and adherence often touted as key elements in engaging in regular exercise, the question is how long can you adhere to the same tired routine day in day out without losing motivation? If you could find a way of improving your exercise frequency and enjoyment, the likelihood of you continuing to consistently engage in healthy practices would be much higher. Changing your environment, getting some vitamin D and breathing in some fresh air may be just what you and your body needs.

yoga Source: Shutterstock/De Visu

Don’t lose your sense of fun and play. The world is serious enough as is; our senses are constantly being dulled by iPad screens, air conditioned office cubicles and the Kardashians. The great outdoors has so much to offer and it doesn’t need to be extreme.

Try switching out one of your normal gym sessions for some outdoor activity this week. Take a hike, do a trail run, try mountain biking, rock climbing, go to yoga in the park, swim in the sea, swing a kettlebell, flip a tyre or run some uphill sprints… your options are limitless!

Sarah Cremen is a personal trainer and physiotherapist based in David Lloyd Riverview in Dublin. For more health and fitness advice and tips, you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram, and you can find her website here.

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