Gyms are great. I work and train in gyms, and I am perfectly happy to take advantage of their offerings, many of which cannot be found on mountains or at the beach. Changing rooms, climate controls, sound systems, familiar faces, endless stacks of iron and rows of fancy machinery are undeniably appealing. But working out in a natural setting offers some healthy benefits that most gym goers aren’t getting. And it’s free!
So here are some of the many benefits derived from exercising outside:
1) BDNF Boost
“Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor” is a powerful protein that promotes brain health by enabling neurogenesis (growing new brain cells) and neuroplasticity (generating new connections among brain cells). Acclaimed Author Dr. David Perlmutter cites studies suggesting that low BDNF correlates to depression, and that BDNF can be enhanced by exercise (even in a gym) and exposure to sunlight. So exercising in the sunlight is an excellent, efficient way to build a robust, happy brain.
2) More Burn, Less Boredom
It’s the sand, man. Natural settings are more challenging to your brain and body. Varied slopes, wind, and unstable or soft surfaces require more muscle engagement, more focus, and more effort. As you are consistently forced to stabilize and improvise your heart rate rises more than it would on grass or indoors. Adaptation to repeated challenges takes longer in unpredictable, natural settings, where you burn more calories in less time, while engaged mentally.
3) Vitamin D Boost
Roughly 70% of fair-skinned Americans are vitamin D deficient, alarming because this steroid hormone controls over 1000 physiological processes in our bodies and because low levels may increase inflammation and quicken aging. Since UVB exposure is the primary source of vitamin D, shed some clothing and exercise on the beach some time between 10 and 3 o’clock. Strategically minimize sunscreen. Increasing and optimizing vitamin D levels can help burn fat, build muscle and battle depression.
4) The Landscape
Would you rather run on a treadmill or a sandy beach? Would you rather be marching in rows, indoors, looking at screens, inhaling the hellfire of sweaty feet? Don’t answer that, and make sure you are at least looking at scenes from the beach on that screen! “Simply looking at pictures of nature can lower your blood pressure, stress and mental fatigue. That’s how powerful nature can be.” Dr. Greg Wells Reported. “Research has shown that images containing water are more restorative than those without.” And if a picture can do that, how good is the real thing? Is that enough to make you go for a jog on the beach? Wells also cites research suggesting that exercising among plants and trees bolsters your immune system.
5) Serotonin Boost
A number of studies have shown outdoor exercise has a positive effect on mood. Exercise, fresh air in your lungs and exposure to sunlight leads to greater activity of mood enhancing neurotransmitters like serotonin. Serotonin converts to melatonin and may help you sleep and recover from your workout too.
6) The Soundscape
A recent study suggests natural sounds may be good for you too. “Natural soundscapes can provide restorative benefits independent of those produced by visual stimuli,” the study’s authors reported. The study determined that participants who listened to a recording of a natural soundscape, after watching a disturbing video, demonstrated more positive changes in mood than others exposed to silence or the same soundscape but with added voices or car sounds.
7) Bare Feet Don’t Stink!
Sweaty feet only smell if they are crammed in shoes, and there may yet be something to this negative ion thing. Proximity to moving water, and roaming the earth with bare feet exposes our physiology to negative ions, thus making us more healthy, supposedly. More research is needed. I will be barefoot on the beach when it’s ready. If not for the positive effects of negative ions, then for sweeter scents and better strength and movement quality.
Brian Giebel is a Certified Personal Trainer and freelance writer in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, where he can regularly be found crawling and rolling on the beach. A visually impaired surfer, he is fascinated by and focused on the healing powers of nature and movement. He posts original content, research and articles on Facebook at BRAIN BODY BOOST.