American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Studies have found that green exercise—or exercise performed in natural environments—can yield benefits beyond those seen with performing the same exercise indoors. You likely know that regular exercise provides countless health benefits, including the prevention and management of hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention the stress relief and mental health benefits that moving regularly can provide. But did you know that you can boost those benefits simply by taking your movement outdoors?  

Here are the findings from five key studies on the benefits of outdoor exercise: 

  • Compared to exercise alone, green exercise was found to be more impactful in terms of improving both cardiovascular and mental health 

  • Among primary school–aged children, green exercise elicited a greater reduction in blood pressure after exercise when compared to exercise alone. 

  • In a study of individuals diagnosed with coronary artery disease, those who performed green exercise (i.e., walking in a park) saw greater improvements of cardiac function (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate and cardiac output) than those who walked along busy city streets. 

  • Researchers evaluating the effects of green exercise in the workplace found it to be an effective strategy for managing stress levels among company employees.  

  • In a multi-study analysis, researchers reached a number of interesting conclusions: green exercise performed in various environments improved both self-esteem and mood, and the presence of water elicited even greater benefits; men and women saw similar improvements in self-esteem following green exercise; and there were substantial benefits seen with even short, light-intensity bouts of green exercise and, while the benefits were diminished with longer and more intense exercise, the positive improvements continued. 

Four Strategies for Adding Green Exercise to Your Routine 

Now that you know the reasons why getting outside is so important, the next step is figuring out how to integrate green exercise into your already existing routine. Consider the following strategies: 

  • Take a walk outside: Ditch the treadmill and walk on grass or dirt each day. Our bodies were designed to walk on natural surfaces and to perform high volumes of low-to-moderate intensity walking. Walking anywhere from 1 to 5 miles outside each day is recommended. 

  • Connect movement with the acquisition of food: For thousands of years, humans performed outdoor physical activity to secure food and water. Fishing, hunting and gardening are great ways to reestablish that connection. If none of those activities are your thing, consider walking to a grocery store or convenience store each day to pick up a few ingredients for that evening’s dinner.  

  • Move outdoors with friends: Plan a weekly hike, golf outing or pickleball match, or sign up for outdoor group exercise classes. Making physical activity more social or recreational can make it feel more like fun with friends and less like a grueling workout you have to find a way to fit into your schedule.  

  • Keep it short: If you don’t have time for any of the activities just described, take a short outdoor break. As mentioned above, bouts of green exercise don’t have to be long or exhausting to be beneficial. A simple walk around the block on your lunch break or after dinner may be enough to elevate your mood and provide some of the other benefits discussed above. The key is consistency, so get out there as often as you can. 

Final Thoughts

An unfortunate side effect of the forward march of technology, coupled with things like remote work and food/grocery delivery services, is the tendency for people to sit more and move less. Incorporating green exercise into your daily routine can be an effective way to counter the ill effects of that more sedentary lifestyle. More importantly, green exercise can be a lot of fun, and finding a type of movement you enjoy is one of the best predictors of long-term success with lifestyle change. So, whether it’s joining a basketball league, mountain biking with friends or signing up for a Saturday morning boot camp in the park, now is the time to get outside and get moving. 

If you are a health coach or exercise professional looking to add outdoor fitness options to your list of services, be sure to check out Shared-Use Agreements for Outdoor Fitness (worth 0.1 ACE CECs), which will take you step by step through the process of delivering physical activity and exercise programs in parks and other public spaces.

Level up your coaching with TRX for runners

Transform training, enhance performance, minimize injury.

Learn More