Should doctors prescribe nature?
In what is a first for the UK, GPs in Shetland are teaming up with RSPB Scotland in order to deliver a unique new initiative. The idea is that doctors will “prescribe nature” in order to tackle an array of common and otherwise costly health problems such as high blood pressure and anxiety.1 From bird watching to simply walking, this initiative has come up with a variety of ways to help people using the outdoors as their only tool.
So, should this kind of approach be rolled out across the country? Well, here at A.Vogel we think the answer to this question is definitely yes – there are just so many things to be gained from getting yourself outdoors.
1. Exercising outdoors provides a good dose of vitamin D
Unlike when we exercise indoors, being out in the fresh air exposes us to vitamin D which brings its own set of health benefits. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining strong, healthy bones but it also has an important part to play in muscle health and even immune function too.
Exercise improves circulation and this is good for the immune system as it allows white blood cells, which help to fight infection and disease, to move around. However, studies have also shown that vitamin D can ward off respiratory tract infections and so it also helps to prevent colds and flu.2
Although a little vitamin D can be obtained from our diet, sunshine (and being outdoors in general) really is the best natural source. This means the more time you spend outdoors the better. Remember though, you can still gain a reasonable dose of vitamin D from just a small amount of sun exposure. Therefore, even in the depths of winter when you have to pile on the layers you should still be able to benefit from this vitamin.
2. Exercising outdoors is more demanding
For those of you looking for a more strenuous workout, exercising outdoors may be the way forward. Cycling through the woods rather than on a bike in the gym for example, means you’ll have to deal with a variety of elements like the wind, uneven surfaces and steep hills. All of these contribute to a more challenging workout so if you want to improve your fitness levels get outdoors!
3. Exercising outdoors can help stress, anxiety and low mood
From bird calls to lush green hillsides, nature is incredibly calming so if you suffer from an anxiety disorder or are just feeling a little overwhelmed with the events in your life at present then exercising outdoors can again prove beneficial.
A campaign run by the Wildlife Trust called ’30 Days Wild’ asked people to engage with nature every day for a month. They had 12,400 people sign up for this but in the end the engagement was much higher. Participants were encouraged to try activities that required a high level of commitment (like climbing a mountain) and something more technical using the aid of a guide. Once the 30 days were up participants reported feeling happier and more connected to nature.3
That’s not all though, outdoor activities also encourage greater self-esteem and the ability to rise to a challenge can result in a sense of achievement afterwards. These are all positive emotions that suggest the combination of exercise and nature can help to reduce stress, anxiety and low mood.
On top of this, exercising outdoors rather than on a treadmill also provides a greater distraction from any troublesome feelings. After all, there is scenery, the weather and the act of navigating yourself through an activity to take your mind off any negativity.
Finally, any kind of exercise releases endorphins, otherwise known as feel-good hormones, which can boost mood. You can read more about this, as well as some additional tips on how to improve low mood, in our blog 6 simple tips to help improve your low mood.
4. Exercising outdoors is low cost and easily accessible
One of the best things about exercising outdoors is that it is both easily accessible and there are usually no fees involved. A walk in the park, a run through the streets and hillwalking are all absolutely free and to get started all you need to do is open the front door!
5. Exercising outdoors reduces blood pressure
In today’s society office jobs, TV sets, games consoles (and a whole range of other technology) discourage us from getting out and about to enjoy the fresh air. Therefore, partaking in an outdoor activity gives us a break from this sedentary lifestyle which comes with its own set of health benefits.
This can, for example, help to manage and lower blood pressure, though if you do suffer from this problem you’ll need to consult your doctor to find out the safest way to get active.4 For now though, my top tips for exercising with high blood pressure are as follows:
- Start off small – don’t rush into climbing Ben Lomond or doing a 10k, instead take your time when incorporating more exercise into your routine. Not only will this be better for your blood pressure, you’ll also be more likely to stick to your activity long term too
- Keep it regular – in order to maintain a steady blood pressure you’ll have to make sure you are doing exercise regularly. Often people suffering from this problem manage to control their blood pressure through exercise only for it to shoot back up when the exercising stops
- Plan – this will help to ensure you keep to your exercise routine.
6. Exercising outdoors is sociable
From football to running clubs, many outdoor sports come with the added benefit that they involve other people and so as a result they are very sociable activities to partake in. As you work together to motivate each other to succeed or to beat an opposing team you’ll meet new people, build relationships and create new networks.
How to spend more time exercising outdoors
So, with all these benefits associated with exercising outdoors you may now be wondering how you can get yourself out into sunshine (or, indeed, the rain). Here I’ve come up with a few simple ideas.
It’s cheap, it’s accessible and it’s easy – walking is one of the best activities for those wishing to spend more time outdoors. Simply go for a walk at lunchtime or before dinner, get off the bus a few stops earlier or walk to the shops instead of driving. There are so many simple ways to incorporate more walks into your day-to-day routine so what are you waiting for?
Take up a new outdoor sport
From kayaking to hillwalking, there are a variety of outdoor activities available to suit your individual likes and skills. Therefore, if you want to take up something new, the best place to do it is definitely out in the fresh air!
Starting a new sport can be a bit daunting but the best way to get over this is to start an activity with the support of a club. If you are unsure what’s available in your area then I’d recommend having a look at meetup.com. Here you can find groups dedicated to a whole variety activities including running and hiking however, if there is no club dedicated to your favourite activity in your area you can even create a new group. This is a great way to have fun, meet new people and improve your skills in your chosen activity.
Planning your activities ahead of time is a good way to ensure you keep up a regular amount of outdoor exercise. So, make arrangements with friends or partake in a solo activity and spend more time outside as a result!
Change the way you travel to work
This isn’t an option for everyone but if your commute is a short one you could change the way you travel to work in order to spend more time outside. Cycling, walking and even running are all great options. Alternatively, for an easier workout you could cycle, walk or run half the journey and then drive the other part.
Find an outdoor pool near you
Parents often turn to their local leisure centre in order to occupy children on dull, rainy days however, swimming pools are often then ignored on days when the sun shows its face. Still, outdoor pools may be the way forwards as, whether its sunshine or rain, when you’re swimming outdoors it doesn’t really matter. Also, nowadays many outdoor pools are heated so you needn’t worry about the water being icy cold!
You can find a list of England’s outdoor pools here and a list of Scottish ones here.
Abandon the gym
The gym is a great way to improve your overall fitness levels but it doesn’t give you the health benefits of being outdoors so why don’t you make some simple swaps? Ditch the treadmill for a jog through the park or ride your bike through the streets instead of using an indoor one. Also, outdoor gyms are becoming increasingly popular so if you still want to use exercise equipment this is a great option. You can find a list of outdoor gyms in the UK here.
The best post exercise drink!
If you do decide to do a little bit of exercise outdoors you'll need to re-fuel afterwards and that's where our Balance Mineral Drink comes in.
This contains a mix of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, zinc, calcium, potassium and vitamin D to support normal muscle function and bone maintenance. That's not all though, it also helps reduce fatigue and tiredness which is just what you need after a long bike ride or walk round the park!
Where is your favourite place to exercise?