Outdoor Activity: The 5-minute Fix
by Jacquie Blanchette
We all know that exercise is good for us, providing many benefits far beyond the aesthetic, including decreasing the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, reducing stress, managing weight, increasing HDL “the good cholesterol,” enhancing mood, boosting energy levels and improving sleep quality. But, what if I told you exercising outdoors could amplify all of these effects, and possibly in only five minutes a day? Sure, this might not do much to loosen your jeans, but it does provide a powerful one-two punch to counteract the negative outcomes of modern living.
Studies show that exercising outdoors can increase positive feelings of revitalization, energy, attention, focus and sense of well-being, all while decreasing negative feelings like tension, stress and depression. In fact, a 2008 Scottish Health Study suggests that outdoor activity had a 50% greater effect on mental health than going to the gym. And, information compiled by UK researchers from various studies encompassing 1,250 people suggests that the biggest improvement in mood and self-esteem was seen in just 5 minutes.
So what is it about being outside that does our bodies so good? Well, for one, sunshine alone can cause the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones that tend to be somewhat addictive. Know anyone that suffers from this vice? And the sun also happens to be the body’s main source of Vitamin D, important not only in bone health, but also in cell growth, neuromuscular function, immune function and reduction of inflammation.
The unfortunate news is that it’s the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun that does all of this good stuff. The good news is that the Canadian Cancer Society contends that a few minutes a day of sun exposure is all that some people need in order to get their daily dose of vitamin D, depending on age, diet, skin colour, where you live and how strong the sun is. Despite this, it’s prudent to limit UV exposure to lower the risk of skin cancer and get vitamin D from other sources (fortified foods and supplements).
Interestingly, there’s another great reason to exercise outdoors that has nothing to do with the sun; a few years ago a group of scientists discovered that simply taking a walk through the forest could actually boost immunity. Upon further study, they determined that the root cause was phytoncides— say what? These are airborne chemicals from plants that have been shown to increase Natural Killer (NK) cells in our innate immune systems. The innate immune system is our first line of defence against infection by other organisms. A large part of the enhancement in NK cell production is thought to be due to the stress-reducing reactions caused by catching a whiff of these phytoncides. Apparently the saying “hug a tree” actually has some basis in science.
So five minutes a day of outdoor activity can help: uplift your mood, give you energy, increase your focus, infuse you with vitamin D, reduce inflammation, decrease stress, fight obesity and boost your immune system. Of course... an hour a day is much better.
Jacquie Blanchette is a fitness and lifestyle coach who believes that one of the greatest joys in life is movement and is passionate about enriching people’s lives through strength. After working in the fitness industry for over 15 years, she feels fortunate to have found a home for her boutique gym in Rossmore, ON, where she’s surrounded by a fantastic community of people that inspire her every day. She has a BA in Sociology, a diploma in Fitness and Health Promotion and is currently certified in personal training, indoor cycling, fitness kickboxing and kettlebell foundations. Outside of the gym, she can be found running, hiking or biking local trails or, better yet, local wine routes. Jacquie can be reached through her website at www.bodyshopxco.com.