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HOW TO EXERCISE OUTSIDE THIS PANDEMIC WINTER + WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT

By Carrie Dorr

First let’s start with the WHY. There are two main reasons why exercising outside is so important: Our Physical Health and our Mental Health.

Most of us are familiar with the physical benefits all sorts of outdoor exercise activities provide and for a deeper dive in to cardiovascular health, see our piece on Aerobic Exercise here. What is less known is the critical role nature can play on our mental health. Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. In a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

Positive Psychology provides the below list of ways Nature Improves Psychological Well-Being:

Nature helps in emotional regulation and improves memory functions.
A study on the cognitive benefits of nature found that subjects who took a nature walk did better on a memory test than the subjects who walked down the urban streets (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008).

Nature walks benefit people suffering from depression. Studies had shown that people suffering from mild to major depressive disorders showed significant mood upliftments when exposed to nature. Not only that, but they also felt more motivated and energized to recover and get back to normalcy (Berman et al., 2012).

Recent investigations revealed that being outdoor reduces stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol (Gidlow, Randall, Gillman, Smith, & Jones, 2016).

Nature walks and other outdoor activities build attention and focus (Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991). There are pieces of evidence that indicate strong environmental connections to be related to better performance, heightened concentration, and reduced chances of developing Attention Deficit Disorder (Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2009).

A study at the University of Kansas found that spending more time outdoors and less time with our electronic devices can increase our problem-solving skills and improve creative abilities (Atchley, Strayer, & Atchley, 2012).

This is no longer just theory! We now have increasing amounts of scientific evidence around how our physiological bodies and nervous systems respond while we are in nature. For more on the data and science, this podcast on Science Talk with the author of the Nature Fix is worth the listen.

So we’ve got the WHY, now let’s talk about HOW we can be consistent with an outdoor exercise regime.

  1. MAKE IT A PRIORITY-put it on your calendar like you do a doctor appointment
  2. ADD A FRIEND, MAKE IT YOUR “DATE”- more accountability and good for the soul
  3. FIND NEW ROADS, NEIGHBORHOODS, PATHS OR TRAILS TO EXPLORE
  4. CREATE A BEAT DRIVEN PLAYLIST
    Depending on your walk/hike/run speed, create a playlist with coordinating bpms so you can keep the beat! If rhythm movement isn’t your jam, simply choose songs that are motivating for you!
  5. If you live in a warm climate no need to read any further but if you don’t, investing in the right gear is key. If you are cold and wet it’s not fun and if you are slipping it’s not safe. Here’s a list of what what I have figured out really works. Yes, it’s pricey. I view it as an investment. You only need one of each and everything lasts a long time.

Waterproof Sneaker | If you are a HOKA fan, they have a Gortex Option

Base LayerTop | Smartwool Intraknit Merino 250 this is a new style for Smartwool + it’s a looser fit + not itchy at all

Traction | Yaktrax or MICROspikes

Base Layer Bottom | Splits59 Airweight Leggings

Outer Layer Bottom | Lululemon Dance Studio Lined Pants. This is the current version. Pretty sure the ones I have are from at learn 5 yrs ago aka they hold up.

Quality Shell Jacket | ARC’TERYX do NOT miss the Outlet section!

Women's Kresta 14 Snow Pack