Is joining and working out at a gym a ticket to fitness ? Or are you better off exercising at home or outdoors ? People who have tried out all three – gym, home and the outdoors are usually quite clear about the pros and cons of each and the majority verdict : Outdoor exercise is healthier than gym workouts or exercises at home.
Researchers too have found that going for a run outdoors is better than exercising in the gym because it has a positive impact on mental, as well as physical health. Levels of tension, confusion, anger and depression were found to be higher exercising indoors.
A study found that exercise in natural environments was linked to greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement. Levels of tension, confusion, anger and depression were found to be lowered by exercising outside.
A team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the United States looked at data from sources including eleven trials involving 833 adults. All compared the relative merits of outdoor exercise compared to indoors. As well as improved mental health benefits, those studied also reported greater enjoyment from exercising outside, and a higher likelihood of continuing with the exercise regime. Research fellow Dr. Jo Thompson-Coon said: “The hypothesis that there are added beneficial effects to be gained from exercising in the natural environment is very appealing and has generated considerable interest. “By using the data currently available to us we have added strength to the link between mental and physical well-being and outdoor exercise, but further research and longer, tailor-made and focused trials are needed to better understand this link.”
Professor Michael Depledge, senior author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, added: “Some 75 per cent of the European population now live in urban environments, so that increasing efforts need to be made to re-connect people with nature. Our research, which brings together data from a wide variety of sources, adds significant weight to the case for spending more time in the natural environment as members of the public and their clinicians fight to counteract the negative outcomes of modern living, such as obesity and depression.”
Other studies too have reached similar conclusions. Activities in natural environments such as parks and forests in particular have a positive effect on stress, mood and fatigue, found researchers at the University of Glasgow. The study, published in the journal Social Science And Medicine, showed that exercising in ‘non-natural environments’ such as gyms was not so good at protecting against poor mental health.
Professor Richard Mitchell, of the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health at the University, said: ‘I wasn’t surprised by the findings that exercise in natural environments is good for your mental health, but I was surprised by just how much better it is for your mental health to exercise in a green place like a forest, than in other places like the gym. Exercise anywhere is a good thing but exercise in natural environments has a greater benefit for mental health. Woodlands and parks seemed to have the greatest effect, so the message to doctors, planners and policymakers is that these places need protecting and promoting.’
Prof. Mitchell said 8 per cent of people who exercised regularly in green spaces were likely to suffer poor mental health while the number doubled to 16 per cent for those who did not exercise regularly outdoors. The research team studied the use of natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, such as walking, running and cycling. Outdoor exercise had a positive effect on biomarkers, which indicate levels of stress and fatigue.
Studying 1,890 entries to the Scottish Government’s general health questionnaire, they looked at the association between the use of each environment and the risk of poor mental health. Prof. Mitchell added: ‘The information in the health survey gave us great information on a large pool of people but we did not have access to the type, duration or intensity of exercise. It would be interesting if we could conduct further research and establish a direct comparison between a run in a park and a run on a treadmill, for example.’ Another study, this one by the National Institute of Mental Health also looked into how exercise changed social interactions – using mice as a template. The researchers found that even a small amount of exercises gave the meeker mice emotional resistance.
Health Benefits Of Green Gyms
Green Gym groups meet at least once a week and do between 1 and 4 hours practical conservation or gardening work. All participants are volunteers. Over two-thirds have never taken part in environmental conservation work before. Examples of the types of work undertaken include coppicing, clearing scrubland, path building, tree-planting or digging on an allotment. The group usually meets at the project site. Sessions include a refreshment break and a chance to socialise. Activities are led by a qualified leader, and the sessions discuss the safe handling and correct use of tools, warm up – exercises to prepare muscles for activity and reduce the risk of injury, exercises to prevent stiffness and so on.
Both physical and psychological benefits are claimed for people who attend Green Gym sessions regularly. The School of Health and Social Care at Oxford Brookes University independently evaluated the Green Gym projects in Oxfordshire and East Sussex, England and identified the following benefits from Green Gym tasks:
- Significant improvements in cardiovascular fitness, provided that they are performed regularly.
- Improved muscular strength (as measured by handgrip strength) leading to increased coping ability and reduced risk of functional limitations in later life.
- Almost a third more calories can be burnt in an hour of some Green Gym activities than in doing a step aerobics class.
- A significant improvement in the Mental Health Component Score in the first 3 months of participation (as measured by the SF-12 health-related quality of life instrument).
- A strong trend in the decrease in depression scores during the same time period.
- Waist-to-hip ratio decrease in the first three months.
Source : Wikipedia