Exercise and nature — who would’ve thought there’s a connection?
We were designed to wander around a jungle for 30 to 40 years hunting and searching for food sources to keep ourselves nourished to basically stay alive. In our modern world, which is much less harsh, for most of us food is freely available and the hunter-gatherer existence is certainly a thing of the very distant past.
But, our physiology was certainly designed for feast and famine in natural environments where we had to use our legs all day to survive. Thus, regular exercise is a vital component of good health and the evidence is overwhelming that 3 to 5 hours of moderate exercise per week reduces the risk for a number of modern diseases by somewhere between 30 to 50%. This includes cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and osteoporosis.
Two very interesting recent studies, the first around exercise and the second, nature, are worth reviewing. The first study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and University of Irvine in California looked at the different responses to exercise depending on the time of day exercise is performed. The studies were done in mice and found that exercising in the morning increased metabolism in skeletal muscles, whereas exercise in the afternoon have more of a general effect on whole-body energy expenditure that was extended beyond the period of exercise seen in the morning.
My interpretation of this study is that it is probably better to do strength training and yoga in the morning and to perform aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling and swimming after 2 PM. You will probably build better muscles this way and have a more efficient cardiovascular system.
It is better to avoid heavy aerobic exercise in the morning because this is when the blood pressure is at its highest, your blood is thicker and your vascular beds are shutdown.
The second study, from the University of Exeter in England, looked at the benefits of spending time in nature. They examined the habits of 20,000 people living in England and determined the amount of time these people spend in nature on weekly basis. The best good health and higher psychological well-being was reported in those people that spent on average two hours per week visiting parks, woodlands, country or beaches. This was regardless of whether the person was male or female, older or younger, their occupation, ethnic group, rich or poor, healthy compared to those with chronic illnesses.
The message here from both the studies is very clear. Have a regular exercise habit and perform exercises at appropriate times during the day but also spend two hours per week in nature. Now here’s a novel idea! Get out of the gym and perform your exercise in nature and you’ll get gets two bangs for your buck.