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Dr. David Samadi: The astonishing body and mind benefits of exercising in the great outdoors – especially during a pandemic

There is overwhelming evidence that exercising outdoors is better for you physically and mentally

As American modernist poet and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry Wallace Stevens aptly put it, “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”  Although written many decades ago, modern science suggests he was onto something: Moving your body outdoors makes you healthier.

Movement is what many of us have craved during the coronavirus pandemic.  Practically every state is finally reopening, allowing more movement within their communities including outdoor exercise. Never has the thought of exercising outdoors looked or felt this good. The weeks and weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown have made many of us stir crazy demanding a much needed change of scenery.

If your usual workout routine is indoors, now’s the perfect time taking your favorite physical activity outside.  Exercising in the great outdoors offers additional health benefits and ups the fun factor.  Science even backs this up.  A 2011 review of 11 studies in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that, compared with indoor exercise, outdoor activity was associated with feeling more energized and positive along with reductions in anger and depression. 

The visual stimulation of outdoor surroundings alone can be a motivational factor helping you enjoy this change of pace. Here are additional benefits you will experience by exercising outdoors:

  • Creativity and problem-solving skills are boosted.
  • Short-term memory and ability to focus improves.
  • Working out outdoors can make you more alert.  A dose of sunlight, especially in the morning, signals the brain that it’s time to wake up and can help you feel more alert throughout the day.  Getting morning light trains your circadian system, the hormonal clock telling you when to wake up and when to sleep.  If your circadian system is out of step, this can lead to too little sleep, raising the risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 
  • Being outdoors exercising with sun exposure can boost your body’s production of vitamin D, important for bone and heart health.  

Best outdoor activities

Not only is being outdoors in nature moving your body good for the soul and mind, it also enhances all the other benefits we derive from exercise.  There are many physical activities any of us can do when outdoors which include the following and the health benefits they each provide:

Hiking/walking

Simply walking nature trails, a hike in the mountains, or canyon paths is a great way to strengthen bones and muscles, lowers your risk of heart disease, improves balance, burns calories, and reduces blood glucose levels.  Aim to walk briskly for at least 2 ½ hours a week for optimal health.

Water workouts

Water aerobics can be one of the most invigorating, refreshing and reenergizing activities you can do.  It’s great for burning calories and toning muscles.  The act of being buoyant takes pressure off joints and feet which is helpful if you have arthritis or are overweight or obese. 

Biking

Here’s a great low-impact exercise benefitting cardiovascular health and one most people can enjoy.  Anyone with balance issues may consider a step-through bike which has a low interior frame making it easier to mount. 

Kayaking or canoeing

For anyone who loves being on the water, this activity is not only fun but is perfect for building arm strength and improving aerobic capacity.

Jogging/running

Both of these exercises are terrific for your heart and lungs as each improves your stamina.  If weight loss is a goal of yours, both jogging and running will burn more calories than walking.  However, for anyone with knee, ankle, or hip issues, this form of movement may put too much stress on joints. If you’re new to jogging or running, start off slowly to adapt to the stress of vigorous exercise.  Too much too soon and you can develop tendinitis or a variety of muscle or joint problems.

Final thoughts

Here’s my main message: Take your exercise outdoors when you can. There’s a big, wide world out there waiting for you to enjoy it. Time spent outdoors being physically active is time well spent – you’ll soak up some sun, appreciate nature, while giving your body and mind a much needed invigorating and energizing boost, especially when dealing with a pandemic.

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.

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