What would you think if the next time you went to see your GP they prescribed you a countryside ramble? Sounds odd, but it could be increasingly likely as GPs in Shetland were recently authorised to give “nature prescriptions” – getting people moving in the great outdoors – to patients with both mental and physical problems. And there are calls for this to be rolled out by the NHS elsewhere.
What’s so potent about the power of “green exercise”? “In terms of the mental benefits, we’ve shown mood and self-esteem increase when you exercise outdoors, more so than exercising indoors,” explains senior lecturer at the University of Essex Dr Valerie Gladwell, who’s part of the Green Exercise Research Team.
Then there’s the physical perks. “If you perform an activity outside – so if you’re running outdoors vs indoors – you burn more calories and fat because of factors such as additional wind resistance,” explains movement coach and author of Animal Moves Darryl Edwards, who believes in using the outdoors as your gym. Think you could do with a dose of Vitamin N? Try these tactics…
Find a workout you love
When it comes to outdoor exercise, the sky’s the limit – quite literally. If running’s your bag – why not give it a green-over? “There’s no comparison between running on the treadmill and running on uneven terrain outdoors. Your muscles are working harder to stabilise you, so the calorie burn is greater, plus you’re building strength which helps with injury prevention,” says Edwards. So even if you’re an urbanite, make a point of mapping your run to take in pockets of green.
Edwards likes to take things further, turning nature into a natural obstacle course. His method of training, , revolves around functional movements we would have used throughout our evolutionary history – push, pull, climb, crawl, walk, run, sprint, jump, lift, carry and so on.
“The gym can limit you based on the equipment, whereas in my local park I can lift a tree trunk, jump on a bench, crawl, climb. These are all compound movements – they use a combination of muscles. You’re working more muscles within the same timeframe – and you’re less likely to get injured than if you were isolating muscles in the gym.”
Get your zen on
If you’re more yogi than HIIT (high-intensity interval training) junkie, experiment with decamping your yoga mat to a grassy spot. “Attention restoration theory says the green environment has a restorative effect because it’s much less challenging, particularly on our eyes,” says Dr Gladwell. “Yoga is a lot about mindfulness and taking notice, and that’s easier outdoors. Nature captures your attention but it’s relaxing. Urban settings are more taxing mentally as we’re having to process an awful lot of information.”
Embrace the elements
Cold outside and not feeling it? Know this: “When you’re outdoors your body has to work to regulate your temperature – that means you burn more calories,” says Edwards.
What’s more, it doesn’t have to be midsummer to get the health benefits of sunlight. “Daylight is really important for regulating our body clocks,” notes Dr Gladwell. So as well as giving you a dose of vitamin D, even a grey day could brighten your mood.
Micronutrients made easy
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