The Benefits of Outdoor Activities
We know how important physical activity is. It improves immunity, bone strength, circulation, and sleep. It reduces our odds of developing cancer, diabetes, depression, and other serious illnesses. Even with all of these benefits, some can’t get motivated to “exercise.” Who can blame them? Workout videos, treadmills, and stationary bikes are not exactly thrilling for most of us.
My advice? Check with your primary care provider to make sure you’re "exercise ready." Then, look to the outdoors. Activities outdoors can excite many people bored at the prospect of more typical exercise. And just like conventional exercise, outdoor activities have the potential to unlock major health benefits.
Endless variety. Here in the northeast there’s no end to the different outdoor activities you could do. Our environment is so well suited for getting outside. Start with what interests you: swimming, canoeing or kayaking, backpacking, or snowshoeing. Some people choose one activity, like cross-country skiing, my personal favorite. Nicholas Wild, MD, of SVMC Northshire Campus, likes a variety of outdoor activities. He skis, snowboards, cycles, and hikes. Even birding, hunting, and golfing can all become great sources of physical activity, especially if you choose to walk, rather than ride. And if you are the type of person who likes to get things done, try gardening, push mowing, splitting and stacking wood, or shoveling snow by hand.
Fits into your schedule. Health experts often recommend spending an average of 30 minutes a day exercising. But, gearing up for an outdoor activity can take some time. Once you get going, you want to make it worthwhile. There’s no reason not to spend 1 – 2 hours twice a week or 3 – 4 hours once a week. The amount of time per session doesn’t matter as much as the total time, so you can fit your movement in at a time that makes sense for you.
Fits your budget. While some outdoor activities require an investment, many don’t. For hiking, you can start with a pair of sneakers. If you find you would like to try another outdoor activity, look to borrow or rent equipment to start. For instance, the Bennington Free Library and many others loan snowshoes in all sizes as if they were books. There is no cost at all. If you find you enjoy it, you can dedicate more resources.
Optimism. Having a major outdoor activity helps people get excited about the changing of the seasons. William Smith, NP, of SVMC ExpressCare hopes for snow, so he can enjoy his favorite winter sports. When the weather warms up, he knows he can enjoy his warm-weather interests. It’s great to have something to look forward to.
Socialization. We know that socialization is a major piece of wellbeing. Many people are interested in getting outside, so inviting people along on a hike or a bike ride is a great way to meet people and form meaningful and lasting friendships.
Ah, nature. Evidence is building that the very act of spending time outside can make us feel healthier. It relieves stress, improves concentration, lifts the mood, reduces pain, and promotes healing.
Perhaps best of all, outdoor activities don’t feel like exercise. They feel like fun! Improving slowly over time—tackling the next hardest slope or reaching a 4,000-ft. peak—is so satisfying. If, even after reading this article, you’re not wild about the idea, consider thinking of exercise as a part time job. You might not love doing it every time but it’s a responsibility you take on because it is so good for you. And with practice, you might find that you actually look forward to it.
Jeffrey Kellogg, PA-C, is a primary care provider at SVMC Pownal Campus, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care, both in Bennington.