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The Benefits of Exercise In Nature

As the days get longer and the countdown to a COVID-19 free reality gets shorter, the idea of exercising outside becomes more and more appealing. Fortunately, the benefits of exercising in nature on various outcomes for health have been well documented in the scientific literature.

Green exercise is defined as any form of exercise that is performed in the presence of nature¹. This can range from taking an evening stroll outside to taking a two month expedition to summit Mount Everest. Researchers have already previously noted the benefits of green exercise on such things as cognitive development among children and productivity levels²⁻³. This week, however, we will be spotlighting a paper that focuses on the effects of green exercise on self-esteem and mood¹. Self-esteem is defined as one's perceptions of their innate worth⁴. Increased measures of self-esteem are associated with decreased measures of depression, social anxiety, and loneliness⁴. Mood can be understood as one's capacity to experience positive emotion and to cope with adversity⁵. Increased mood leads to increased immune health, social well-being, and productivity⁶⁻⁸. Self-esteem and mood were measured before and after an exercise session in nature by two questionnaires called the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the Profile of Mood States respectively¹. Finally, the following findings were extracted from 10 studies with a total of 1252 participants¹.

Improvements in self-esteem and mood were observed in as little as 5 minutes irrespective of duration and intensity of exercise or your gender, age, and health status¹. Although these improvements were observed in all outdoor environments, greatest improvements were observed when exercise was conducted by a body of water¹. Those afflicted with mental illness benefited the most from green exercise but these improvements began to taper off with an increase in intensity¹.

Given the manifold benefits of increased mood and self-esteem, it is advised that green exercise be integrated into one's exercise routine. Moreover, it is not necessarily required that those seeking the aforementioned health benefits engage in strenuous exercise. In fact, a 5 minute walk outside during your lunch break is sufficient to increase feelings of mood and self-esteem!

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  1. Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947–3955.

  2. Burdette, H. L., & Whitaker, R. C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children: Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 159(1), 46–50.

  3. National Statistics: London. (2008). Self-reported work-related stress and workplace injuries in 2006-07. Health and Safety Executive.

  4. Blascovich, J., & Tomaka, J. (1991). Measures of self-esteem. In J. P. Robinson, P. R. Shaver, & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes (115-160). New York, NY: Academic Press.

  5. Hull, R. B. (1990). Mood as a product of leisure: Causes and consequences. Journal of Leisure Research, 22(2), 99–111.

  6. Flory, J. D., Manuck, S. B., Matthews, K. A., & Muldoon, M. F. (2004). Serotonergic function in the central nervous system is associated with daily ratings of positive mood. Psychiatry Research, 129(1), 11–19.

  7. Berger, B. G., Eklund, R. C., & Weinberg, R. S. (2015). Foundations of exercise psychology. Morgantown: Fitness Information Technology.

  8. Thayer, R. E., Newman, J. R., & McClain, T. M. (1994). Self-Regulation of Mood: Strategies for Changing a Bad Mood, Raising Energy, and Reducing Tension. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(5), 910–925.

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