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Is It Better To Do Your Exercise Outdoors?

In the world of health research, exercise is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees on.

Regular physical activity improves heart health, reduces your risk of cancer, keeps your bones healthy, improves mental health, and the list goes on.

But does it matter where you do your exercise? Will a gym work-out have the same health benefits as a bootcamp in a local park?

The bottom line is any exercise is better than no exercise, doctor and researcher Sandro Demaio tells ABC Life. So if exercising indoors works for you, stick with it.

“But there is some interesting evidence that running on a treadmill does not give the same mental health benefits as running outside, and it may not give you the same happy hormone boost as running outside,” Dr Demaio says.

“That makes sense because you’re not just running to improve your heart health and get the blood moving around the body and improve your fitness. You’re also outside seeing things, smelling things and getting fresh air. All those things will have an effect.”

Time in nature can boost mental health

It turns out, simply ‘being’ in a beautiful, natural environment really can benefit your mental health.

Levi Wade is a University of Newcastle PhD student studying the effects of outdoor exercise on mental health and cognition in teenagers.

“There’s a big evidence base on its effect on concentration and stress reduction. Those are the two big effects you’ll find,” Mr Wade says.

Broadly speaking, we can exert two different types of focus: hard and soft. Doing homework, checking over a spreadsheet, or crafting a pithy email all require hard focus.

Being immersed in a beautiful natural environment, on the other hand, can stimulate our soft focus. You might acknowledge the rustling of the leaves, or pay attention to the bird life.

Switching to soft focus allows your hard focus to recover: this is referred to as the restorative effect.

“If you’re walking in a forested environment or just somewhere that’s fascinating and beautiful, then a lot of the mechanism behind that effect on stress and mood is due to that environment taking your mind away from your own problems and whatever stress you are experiencing,” Mr Wade says.

“It’s just relaxing your mind because you’re not focusing on those thoughts.”

Much of the research around these benefits of outdoor exercise has been conducted on walking — specifically, walking in forested environments in Japan. It’s a popular activity there (not surprising given that 65 per cent of the country is covered in forest) and it’s termed shinrin-yoku, or “forest-bathing”.

One of the world’s leading shinrin-yoku researchers is Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, who has been conducting research on the physiological relaxation effects of nature since the early 1990s.

“The most important thing is to make use of nature that you like,” he says.

“During our research, we found that even small elements of nature that you personally like, like plant aromas, flower arrangements, potted plants, or bonsai can have a physiological relaxation effect.”

Of course, sitting next to a potted plant for halfa won’t have the same effect on your health (physical or mental) as a 5k run. But if you’re feeling overworked, then taking some time away from the city is likely to make you feel better.

Then there’s vitamin D boost

Exercising outdoors is also a great way to get your vitamin D, which you need for healthy bones, muscles and other vital body functions.

If you have fair skin you need roughly around 5–15 minutes of sun exposure a day, but this can vary depending on the time of year, and where in Australia you are.

For those with darker skin, or who have to cover their skin for religious or cultural beliefs, it can actually be tricky to get enough vitamin D through sunlight alone. So talk to your GP about your options and whether you need supplementation.

But the sun can also be the very thing that puts many of us off exercising outdoors.

So don’t forget to slip, slop, slap and slide if you’re going to be exercising at times when your chances of UV exposure are high.

The best exercise is the type you do

As simple as it sounds, when it comes to choosing the best kind of exercise for you, the most important thing is to find something you actually like doing.

If you love going for a walk or run outdoors, then go for it.

“If you enjoy it you are so much more likely to stick to it and that is the most important thing,” explains Mr Wade.

But if you’ve already got your gym routine down pat, and the idea of venturing to your local beach is extremely off-putting, then it’s probably not worth forcing yourself into a change of habit.

This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.

ABC LifeBy Dr Chloe Warren

Source: Is it better to do your exercise outdoors? – ABC Life

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Exercise May Aid in Weight Loss, Provided You Do Enough – Gretchen Reynolds

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Can working out help us to drop pounds after all? A provocative new study involving overweight men and women suggests that it probably can, undercutting a widespread notion that exercise, by itself, is worthless for weight loss.

But the findings also indicate that, to benefit, we may need to exercise quite a bit. In theory, exercise should contribute substantially to weight loss. It burns calories. If we do not replace them, our bodies should achieve negative energy balance, use stored fat for fuel and shed pounds.

But life and our metabolisms are not predictable or fair, as multiple exercise studies involving people and animals show. In these experiments, participants lose less weight than would be expected, given the energy they expend during exercise.

The studies generally have concluded that the exercisers had compensated for the energy they had expended during exercise, either by eating more or moving less throughout the day. These compensations were often unwitting but effective.

Some researchers had begun to wonder, though, if the amount of exercise might matter. Many of the past human experiments had involved about 30 minutes a day or so of moderate exercise, which is the amount generally recommended by current guidelines to improve health.

But what if people exercised more, some researchers asked. Would they still compensate for all the calories that they burned? To find out, scientists from the University of North Dakota and other institutions decided to invite 31 overweight, sedentary men and women to a lab for measurements of their resting metabolic rate and body composition.

The volunteers also recounted in detail what they had eaten the previous day and agreed to wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week. The scientists then randomly divided them into groups. One group began a program of walking briskly or otherwise exercising five times a week until they had burned 300 calories, which took most of them about 30 minutes. (The sessions were individualized.)

Over the course of the week, these volunteers burned 1,500 extra calories with their exercise program. The other group began working out for twice as long, burning 600 calories per session, or about 3,000 calories per week. The exercise program lasted for 12 weeks. The researchers asked their volunteers not to change their diets or lifestyles during this time and to wear the activity monitors for a few days.

After four months, everyone returned to the lab and repeated the original tests. The results must have been disconcerting for some of them. Those men and women who had burned about 1,500 calories a week with exercise turned out to have lost little if any body fat, the tests showed. Some were heavier. But most of those who had walked twice as much were thinner now. Twelve of them had shed at least 5 percent of their body fat during the study.

The researchers then used mathematical calculations, based on each person’s fat loss (if any), to determine whether and by how much they had compensated for their exercise. I think they just did not realize that they were eating more,” he says.

There probably also are complicated interconnections between exercise, appetite and people’s relationships to food that were not picked up during this study and can affect eating and weight, he says. He hopes to study those issues in future studies.

But already, the results from this experiment are encouraging, if cautionary. “It looks like you can lose weight with exercise,” Dr. Flack says. But success may require more exertion of our bodies and will than we might hope, he adds.“Thirty minutes of exercise was not enough” in this study to overcome the natural drive to replace the calories we burn during a workout.

“Sixty minutes of exercise was better,” he says. But even then, people replaced about a third of the calories they expended during exercise. “You still have to count calories and weigh portions” if you hope to use exercise to control your weight, he says.

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