All exercise is not created equal. I had no idea where we exercise can actually improve the physical self-care benefits of our activity.
Exercise and self-care go hand-in-hand. What would happen if you saw exercise as a powerful self-care tool instead of a drudgery you must check off your already too-long to-do list? We’ll explore the mental, academic, physical, and spiritual aspects of exercise during the month of June.
A Post-Surgery First
“Want to go for a walk?” I asked Pedro one evening last month.
“Really?” he looked a little startled. “You’re ready to walk outside?”
“I can’t walk very fast, and I probably can’t go very far,” I admitted, “but I’m craving exercise outside.”
After two months of limited mobility from ankle surgery, I couldn’t deny my need to exercise outside any longer. From March to May my exercise routine took place mostly on my stationary bicycle.
Each day my heart rate hit the prescribed highs for vigorous exercise for at least ten minutes. But for some reason, I still didn’t feel as if I’d REALLY exercised. For the past decade, Pedro and I have gone for a walk after dinner.
When we lived in Montana, we walked the triangle—a more or less triangle route of 1.8 miles around our neighborhood. In Arizona, we walked the gully loop, a 1.4-mile loop around the campus of the school where we live and work. On weekends, we often go mountain biking together or with a group of students.
I’ve exercised outside in rain, sleet, snow, ice, heat, and mild weather. After two months of exclusive indoor exercise, I couldn’t wait to walk the gully loop—even if it hurt a bit. I’ve always equated outdoor exercise with physical self-care. I had no idea outside activity has added benefits for my physical health.
Does Green Exercise Improve Your Physical Health?
Green exercise happens outside in nature. And it doesn’t have to fit the traditional image of exercise, either. According to Holly Tiret from the Michigan State University Extension Office, any outdoor activity counts as green exercise—even weeding your flower beds or taking out the trash.
Time outside improves our mental and physical health, sayBritish researchers Pretty, et al, “A growing number of researchers from many disciplines are now showing that contacts with the natural world can benefit mental and physical health.”
The connection between green activities and improved physical health may start with the improvements in our mental state. The more time we spend outside, the more we improve our mental health. Some research studies have shown the importance of providing green space for hospital patients. Even if the patients can’t go outside, simply looking at trees and greenery improves their mental outlook.
If we feel good, taking the next step and increasing our activity level will feel natural. Think about it this way. If you despise going to the gym, why would you force yourself to go? It might sound like a lofty goal on December 31st, but most people can’t continue doing something they hate for more than a few months.
But if we spend time outside and take an interest in outdoor activities, our mood will naturally improve. Along with our desire to spend more time outside. And the more time we spend outside, the more we improve our physical self-care quotient.
I talk a lot about running, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities—but I didn’t always value those outdoor activities. Eighteen years ago, after Pedro’s miraculous recovery from cancer, I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. My journey to self-care didn’t happen overnight.
Every Journey Begins with Forward Movement
I didn’t realize how far I’ve come and the importance of green exercise in my life until I couldn’t exercise outside this spring. You probably already know the benefits of exercise for your physical self-care. But head knowledge and heart knowledge mature at different rates.
Exercise improves our cardiovascular system, which helps prevent heart disease. It improves our mental health, our digestive health, and our reproductive health. We know all this. But maybe the missing ingredient for all those exercise haters is green space. Maybe we need to stop forcing ourselves to do exercises we hate in places that weigh us down. No pun intended, but a gym full of sweaty people, clanking equipment, and blaring television screens weighs me down.
These hacks will help you incorporate green exercise into your daily routines. As you experience the mental benefits of outdoor activity, you’ll find it easier to take the next step to green exercise.
1. Consider Your Why
As always, start with your why. Why do you want to improve your physical self-care? Remember, mental, academic, and spiritual health all play a part in physical health. List your motivations and decide which one inspires you the most. Write it on a post-it note and keep it in plain sight.
2. List What You Love
Make a list of everything you love doing outside. Back when I first started walking outside, smelling roses topped my list of things I loved to do. We didn’t have any roses in our yard, so I had to walk to find them.
If I didn’t have a brown thumb, I may have taken up flower gardening and grown my own roses. I still love smelling the roses in the spring and summer when I go out walking. What do YOU love doing outside?
3. List What You Hate
Go ahead, make a list of what you hate doing. I hate working out in gyms. For years, that dislike prevented me from doing any weight-bearing exercise. I finally drilled down and discovered why I hated gyms—I felt self-conscious.
Now I do weight-bearing exercises at home in my office where no one can see me. Even though I weigh sixty pounds less than when I discovered why I hate gyms, I still feel self-conscious working out in front of others. But now I enjoy my strength and stretching routine as I’ve formed the habit of doing it.
What do you hate, and why do you hate it? Do you hate running? I used to hate it in gym class. And then we got a dog, and I discovered Clancy never made fun of how slowly I ran or how often I stopped. If you have a pet, maybe their health and enjoyment could spark your health and enjoyment. (link)
4. Make a Commitment
In a recent conversation, one of my friends bemoaned his 50 pounds of extra weight. He ended his lament with the common phrase, “I just don’t have time to work out.” I wanted to shake him. If you value yourself, you will find time for physical self-care. I know he spends hours watching sports on TV. If he valued physical self-care, he would find a way to incorporate his love for watching sports with actual physical movement.
Healthy people and unhealthy people have the same number of hours in their days. It takes making a commitment to improving ones health to actually improve one’s health, though!
5. Get Your Blues, Too
Researchers call exercise done in or next to natural water features ‘blue exercise.’ Mix up your green exercise with blue exercise to reap the positive benefits of water.
6. Involve Your Family
Getting outside for some blue or green exercise is double the fun if your family joins you. Just remember to choose age-appropriate activities if you have little people. Model a healthy enjoyment of exercise in the great outdoors and your kids will have a positive mindset about green exercise and healthy physical self-care.
What’s YOUR Favorite Green Exercise?
I’d love to hear from you! What is your favorite green exercise? I decided I need more blue exercise, but I dislike swimming. The perfect solution? A kayak! I purchased a used one and now I can combine blue exercise with birding and photography, two of my favorite green exercises.