Updated: May 4
Research has found that there are benefits imparted by exercising in the natural world or a setting that is rich with the things we find in nature; like plants, fresh air, and wildlife.
While gyms serve a great purpose, and some people love them, I prefer to exercise in nature. The natural world provides a deeper and more dynamic level of stimulation for your brain that you simply cannot find at any gym.
One study conducted by Richard Louv coined the phrase 'Nature Deficit Disorder'.
At first glance, this might sound a bit contrived. However, Louv asserts that human beings are hardwired by evolution to have a connection to nature. Unfortunately, the modern world and the trend for people living in large urban and suburban places reduce the opportunities for people to spend time in nature.
This sentiment that exposure to the natural world has an impact on us has been echoed by many people throughout the generations. The father of the National Parks system and one of the first naturalists, John Muir, said: “Civilized man chokes his soul.”
Although Muir himself lived a significant amount of his life in Martinez, California just outside of Oakland, the goal in his eyes was not that man needed only urban or natural settings, but that both were of equal value and that people who only embraced urban life were indeed cutting themselves apart from the very therapeutic aspects of a direct relationship with the natural world.
'Green Exercise' involves hiking in nature, or getting involved in other activities in the natural world. For people who live and work deep inside urban areas, this could also extend to things like taking a walk in the park, or along a natural stretch of river, or even getting involved in something like a community garden.
When you’re in nature, there is a lot of multimodal stimulation. You’re smelling the trees, flowers and the other scents in the air. You start to notice things like changes in humidity and the presence of birds and other creatures around you.
When you’re in the gym you’re going to have certain smells but you can usually predict what those smells are. It’s old gym equipment and rubber mats on the floor.
When you’re exercising in nature there is a greater sense of self-awareness, improved mood, increased sense of self-esteem, and even an increase in creativity. People exercising in nature tend to have creative thoughts come to them and find it easier to express those ideas with greater clarity.
The bottom line is that exercising in nature does, in fact, elevate the level of your brain and body functions. It’s a win-win for you and nature, and an important way to help build a better brain. I recommend that everybody get out there and do it!
Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For additional information, and to learn more, please visit our Author's page.
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