Outdoor Exercise Beneficial to Mood and Self-Esteem

Exercising outdoors has some surprising benefits, including improvements to mood and self-esteem. You also work harder, without even realizing. New research suggest we should get outside more.

Exercising in the great outdoors, sometimes called “green exercise,” may have distinct and measurable benefits over exercising inside. So says a recent study from Extreme Physiology and Medicine. The study reviewed all available literature on green exercise and found some surprising results.

When people are allowed to simply walk as fast or as slow as they prefer, they tend to walk faster when outdoors compared to indoors. This is interesting by itself, but the kicker is that they report feeling less exertion. So by exercising outside you can actually perform better, but your workout will feel more effortless.

Green exercise is also proven to improve mood and self-esteem. And not much time is required to reap these psychological benefits. The first five minutes of green exercise show the greatest psychological benefit. So even if you can’t complete your entire workout outdoors, don’t worry. Can you take part of your workout outdoors for just five minutes? Just that tiny dose is enough for a measurable benefit to your mind.

Unfortunately, access to the outdoors is declining among youth. Only 10% of youth today report having access to nature, while 40% of adults say they had access when they were young. Now I’m sure that some ageism is present in a self-reported statistic like this. You know what I mean. Some people love to recount stories of walking seven miles to school, uphill both ways, through knee-high snow, even though they grew up in downtown Miami. But evidence is clear that parental fears of strangers, traffic, and criminals are causing them to limit youth access to nature. This is a travesty. Youth stand to gain so much through child-like playing and exploring in nature. The dangers are insignificant in comparison.

The world-wide decline in physical activity since the Industrial and Digital Revolutions is almost certainly a part of the corresponding increase in disease. Mental health has also showed a marked decline. Most of us agree that exercise is part of turning this trend around. But as this study shows, green exercise in particular may be able to achieve great effects with relatively low doses.


1. Valerie Gladwell, et. al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme Physiology and Medicine 2013, 2:3. doi: 10.1186/2046-7648-2-3

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