Picture this: You are on your bike, gliding down a paved path completely enclosed in green, a blue sky poking between treetops. Your workout partner is beside you, chatting away and you feel like nothing in life could be better than this moment.
Now imagine you are still on a bike, but gone are the greens, blues, sounds and sunlight. They have been replaced by a small mirrored room with a clock. Your partner is still there, but you aren’t talking because the class has started. Instead of feeling alive, you are watching the clock, waiting for the moment you are free to go buy a coffee and drive home.
Which experience would you rather have on a daily basis? I would choose the first option every time, for obvious reasons, but also because the most fulfilling workout is completely free. Everyone has an opinion that will differ. Part of maintaining an active lifestyle is figuring out what makes you happy. To that end, there is growing research touting the amazing difference nature makes in your health.
In his recent book, The Nature Principle, Richard Louv writes about a research team from the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex who examined people who took part in two walks, one in a country park surrounded by woodlands and one in an indoor shopping center.
“Improvements in self-esteem and mood were significantly greater following the green outdoor walk in comparison to the equivalent indoor walk, especially for feelings of anger, depression and tension. Meanwhile depression increased for 22 percent of people and 33 percent expressed no change in their level of depression.”
You can take almost any workout outside, except weight training (unless you are very brave), but running, yoga, biking, etc can all be done outside for your greater benefit. There are surprising amounts of outdoor running, hiking or biking groups in most cities – you just have to look for them. Another option is outdoor sports teams. Both are good ways to build your social network and those friends will be there to understand and encourage your healthy lifestyle.
Even a walk around your neighborhood can be a mood lifting exercise. Most people still say hello on the street, so it is a great way to get out of your house and feel good, opposed to the way everyone stares at the floor as they walk around the gym.
When you enjoy what you are doing, the workout turns into an activity rather than a chore. Not only can you bike 15 km without even noticing, you are getting the added benefits of sunshine, natural inclines and the determination to keep going. It is easy to increase your level of difficulty, take a harder dirt trail or increase your distance, no button pressing necessary.
I have to admit that I still do Jillian Michaels workout DVDs at home, but my start-up fee for my weights, mat, etc was a mere $50 that I don’t need to pay again anytime soon. I agree that weight training is an important factor in any fitness routine, but I’d rather spend two hours hiking trails than two hours n the gym. I like to have this option for those days when it is raining or snowing, but for the most part if I can do something outside instead I will – especially if I can coerce a friend to join me.
I encourage you to turn a session on the treadmill into a run on a forest path and contemplate how different you feel. I always come home energized with a renewed appetite for living, a feeling I’ve never brought home from the gym. I never feel self-conscious outdoors, I feel grateful for nature’s presence, and it is those particular feelings that keep me going back.