Why Exercising in Nature Provides the Best Results
- 31 October 2017 31 October 2017
Shining the spotlight on fitness training in nature Eric Walters director of Wildfitness, shares the benefits of adapting our fitness regime to utilise nature.
With an increasing number of experts advocating leading a healthy outdoor lifestyle, that incorporates spending more time in nature and less time under artificial light, we might ask what’s the reasoning? What’s the use in exposing ourselves to the wilds of nature and its elements? Is this a new fad or a counter-culture backlash against the big, loud gyms just for the sake of it? Here at Wildfitness, we would argue not.
The science behind the power of nature
Several studies have explored the role of nature on our health and all point towards it being of great benefit. Indeed, this inquiry seems so obvious we might better ask if there are any studies proving the opposite? If completely removing our natural and evolved being from the nature that created it has somehow lead to a fuller, healthier existence?! I think not. One example of how nature helps us heal is the oft-sighted analysis of patient recovery time in a hospital following gallbladder surgery. The study placed patients in either a closed room with no window, or a room that looked out across a park. It was found that ‘those with a view of nature recovered a day faster than those without. (1) Nature can not only heal our bodies, but it can also be of great benefit to our mind. Studies have shown how ‘green health improves mental health’ and that the rewards of exercising amongst nature lead to ‘increased self-esteem and improved mood such as a reduction in anger.’ (2) We all know that getting outdoors is good for us, but its effects are far more far reaching than we might imagine.
Director of Wildfitness, Eric Walters, explains why exercising in nature provides the best results
From an evolutionary perspective, we are hard wired to operate in nature, having evolved to do so over 6 million years. Or, conversely, we haven't evolved over 6 million years to be comfortable in concrete boxes, under artificial light, staring at glowing screens in the seated position for hours on end, commuting in cars and trains, getting little chance to move and essentially ignoring the natural rhythms of sun rise and sun set. Such environments are likely to provide persistent aggravation and result in chronic stress without any chance for it to abate. Getting into nature, which can be something as simple as taking a walk in a park, will reduce stress and act as a counter measure to the urban, modern life.
When we consider the range of bodily movement that is available and often necessary in nature compared to a man-made environment, it is clear that the challenges to the body are far more varied. If you do pull-ups in a gym, the position of your hands and arms are the same each time. But try doing the same movement on a branch. Each branch is different in terms of girth, orientation, texture, and angle. That means that each branch gives you a different workout, testing the little muscles that support the big muscles rather than just focusing on 'the guns'. The same goes for trail running when compared to road running and even sea swimming compared to pool swimming. The point here is that, to give yourself a complete workout, you need to challenge it in varied ways and nature has been our gym in which to do so for millions of years.
The evidence supports the hunch that Tara Wood had when she started Wildfitness in 2001. At that point her approach was regarded as leftfield - she noticed that friends staying in her family home on the beach in Kenya appeared happier, less stressed, more supple and resilient after only a few weeks. The key ingredients were a healthy diet, lots of fun and games (so, movement rather than exercise), plenty of rest and almost all day outside in nature.
Steps to get fit in nature
Getting fit in nature isn’t hard – in fact you’re more likely to have fun than realise you’re working out. A natural environment provides many challenges that push our bodies in both minute and major ways. From the tiny flexor muscles in our legs to the giant trapezius muscle across our back, the great outdoors is the best gym coach you could ever have.
1. Start easy – go to your local park before you take on Yosemite National Park
2. Play around – have a go at swinging from the trees or ducking under the branches
3. Create a circuit – once you’ve figured out what works, repeat it
4. Push yourself – when you’re ready, use the diversity of nature to make it harder
5. Rest – just like a wild cat foraging all day, your body needs rest to truly repair
(1) Ulrich, R.S.,1984. View through a window may influence recovery from GP practice. Science 224, 420-421
(2) Barton, J; Pretty, J. 2010. What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol., 44 (10), pp 3947–3955