Green is good

Every Sunday morning I go to the gym to do 30 minutes of strength training. I don’t really enjoy it but I see it as a kind of necessary physical therapy. After all, it slows muscle loss. And since I decided I don’t have to like it but that I do need to do it, I’ve managed to keep up with my routine for more than a year.
 

While I’m diligently lifting weights, others are building up a sweat on the treadmill. They’ve got their earbuds in, listening to music while staring at screens tuned in to MTV or CNN. There is a separation between what their eyes, ears and the rest of their bodies are doing, as if they want the time spent on this boring exercise requirement to pass as quickly as possible.
 

There’s no doubt that running on a treadmill is a good way to burn calories and keep fit. But is it enough? And isn’t there a way to exercise that’s healthier and more fun? According to recent research, the answer is yes. Our brains and bodies benefit much more from cycling, running or walking when we do it outdoors rather than indoors.
 

Green exercise, aka vitamin G, is starting to break through. A few gyms already offer outdoor classes, and there are more green recreation areas than ever before. Google “outdoor fitness meet-up groups” and you will find thousands of running clubs, outdoor yoga practices and kayaking teams. New York City recently introduced its first adult playgrounds in the Bronx; Miami offers an outdoor exercise trail along the beach; every day, thousands of Chicagoans run or ride the 18-mile Chicago Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan, which also has exercise hot spots with fitness facilities. In the UK, there are green programs for people suffering from burnout or dementia (see greenexercise.org). Exercising in nature is healthier because the air is cleaner. You maintain your workout longer because it’s more enjoyable and less monotonous than exercising in a gym. And it appears that having a view of greenery around you has a positive -mental effect.
 

“It’s natural for us as human beings to want and need to be outdoors,” explains Tina Vindum, author of Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym into the Best Shape of Your Life. Vindum became frustrated with indoor gyms in the early ’90s and started creating workout programs while running through the pine forests of the Sierra Nevadas. Outdoor exercise provides an uneven terrain that requires a broader range of motion, greater balance and more fine-motor movement. “These things combined offer a more dynamic workout overall, not to mention the cleaner air, sunshine and calming scenery, which have all been shown to enhance mood and relieve stress,” she explains.
 

“People are really healthier in a green environment,” concludes Jolanda Maas of the social medicine department of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam. Maas conducted epidemiological studies into the connection between nature and health. She looked at 345,000 city dwellers and examined how much greenery there was within a radius of half a mile to a mile of their homes. Using a database of primary care providers, she tallied the number of health problems they had. She limited her research to 24 medical issues, ranging from depression and diabetes to cancer.
 

In nine cases—including autoimmune diseases and allergies—she found no -connection, but in 15 others there was a clear link to the proximity of green space. The incidence of lung diseases, depression, anxiety and diabetes was considerably lower in a setting with more parks and wooded areas within a 1,100-yard radius. “These are all diseases and disorders that are common in our society and carry a huge price tag,” says Maas.
 

At a gathering of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Justin Sherwin of the University of Cambridge recently presented a study showing a connection with eye -disorders. Children and adolescents who spend more time outdoors have less chance of becoming nearsighted. Sherwin showed that every additional two hours children spend outside reduces the chance of becoming nearsighted by 2 percent. And nearsighted children spend an average of 3.7 more hours indoors per week than those with -better vision.
 

Sherwin even says there are indications from a study conducted by the University of Singapore that nearsightedness in children can be partly counteracted by getting them to spend more time outdoors. The study examined 80 nearsighted children aged 7 to 11. Half were required to spend more than 14 hours a week playing outside and were not allowed to spend more than 30 hours a week on homework. The other group was given no direction. Two years later, the “outdoor” group was less nearsighted. So green exercise could even be developed as a medical intervention or outdoor therapy prescription.
 

There are explanations for the healthy effect of nature. When you’re outdoors, you absorb sunlight, which stimulates the production of vitamin D. And that, in turn, helps protect you against cancer, depression and osteoporosis. Daylight also helps better regulate your biological clock, which improves your sleeping and eating patterns. And the air near trees and plants is cleaner, which decreases lung problems. And there’s more.
 

In a natural environment, your eyes frequently roam, which creates more variation between looking close up and far away. This trains your eye muscles. But just seeing trees and the color green without exercising has a stress-reducing effect on the brain. This insight has been used for years in color psychology and applied to interior design, for example. According to color psychologists, red makes people restless or indicates “danger,” perhaps because nature provides so many examples, like the flushed face of someone who is angry. What is clear is that colors and shapes make their way directly to the brain via the optic nerve and affect our emotional state.
 

Maas believes there is an evolutionary explanation for our positive experience of green. “Because people have traditionally lived surrounded by green, they still feel better in nature,” she says. “We are most closely connected with this type of environment and such a connection doesn’t simply vanish from our system.” Moreover, we feel more motivated to move when there is green around us. “When you’re in a green setting, it’s so pleasant you’re encouraged to exercise longer,” Maas believes. “You dedicate more time to it than you would in a traditional gym. You not only work but you relax, which creates a powerful synergy.”
 

I love taking advantage of the synergy -between exercise and relaxation in my daily life. I run or walk to the gym in the fresh air, preferably taking a detour through the park and along the water. I love this trip to the gym, in contrast to the weight training and machines I work on inside. I’m from a provincial town, and I spent a lot of time in nature when I was growing up. Maybe that’s why I prefer exercising outdoors.
 

But research conducted in recent years points to something else: namely, that the enjoyment I get from green exercise comes from a natural need we all share. Nearly all of us spend our days in an office, a car or a living room. And nearly half the world’s population lives in an urban environment, with that number set to increase. Now that there’s a gym on practically every corner, we’re encouraged to work out indoors, which makes the green trend logical.
 

But New York City plans to build at least a dozen more adult playgrounds—with metal racks for sit-ups, chin-up bars and balance beams—in different neighborhoods in the next several months. All over the UK the Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is setting up green gyms that integrate sports with nature conservancy near where people live. So a warm-up might be alternated with a -morning of weeding. Green Gym is a network of personal trainers in the UK, who give their training sessions o
utside and organize -British -Military Fitness outdoor training sessions in parks throughout the country.
 

-Initiatives are also underway in New Zealand to make training sessions greener; in -Auckland, members of Green Gyms can do their daily workouts in parks with professional trainers. Meanwhile, fitness equipment is being installed in increasing numbers of parks and open spaces, including in Queenstown. 
 

Initiatives are flourishing in other countries as well, from yoga in the park to outdoor running clubs. In Tel Aviv, exercise equipment has been installed along the beach to enable people to do their daily exercise class while breathing in the fresh ocean air. Canada recently marked the opening of Wood Buffalo, the largest open-air gym in North America. It has 54 machines spread over a 2,200-yard stretch, offering a -relaxing combination of the great outdoors and fitness.
 

If green is so important, why don’t we paint the gym walls green, decorate them with leaves or show nature films while people work out? Or simply turn on the Wii? Researchers from the University of Essex in the UK came up with a test to -determine whether the positive effect of green exercise is related to the visual experience of nature. They had groups of 20 people work out on a treadmill while looking at a wall on which both rural and urban scenes were projected. Before and after the training, the participants’ blood pressure was taken and they reported how they were feeling.

There was a positive effect from physical exercise alone—even looking at a blank wall. Their blood pressure fell and their mood improved, as did their self-esteem. But the effect was amplified when they exercised while watching a film of a pleasant, green environment. Conversely, an unpleasant, urban environment counteracted the positive effect of the training.
 

So you don’t necessarily have to go outside for green exercise. And, of course, in winter, exercising inside in a virtual nature setting can be a definite advantage. But Maas argues that it’s still best to get outside: “Nature reduces stress, encourages social contacts. All these aspects come together and you can’t simply re-create them in an artificial environment.”
 

It turns out we may even live longer if we spend more time outdoors or in the countryside. Researchers from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University examined a group of 3,144 elderly residents of the Japanese capital. Their chance of being alive five years later increased markedly if they had close access to parks or green, tree-lined streets. Even if we’re not exercising, our mental health benefits from this “green feeling.” Simply having indoor plants is known to benefit people in office environments. But exercising in a green setting has the most powerful effect.
 

Researchers have also considered whether there is a minimum amount of time we need to spend outdoors each day. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton from the University of Essex studied 1,252 individuals, measuring the relationship between their mental well-being and time spent in their gardens, at a park or near water. They discovered that five minutes of exercise outside is enough to boost mood and strengthen self-worth. Green exercise makes you happier, more energetic and less angry. Gardening works, too, or even walking the dog. Moreover, there was a clear dose-response relationship: the more, the better.
 

Humans evolved in forests and on vast plains, not in apartments and office buildings. The need to be outside is ingrained in our nature. We would probably spend a lot less money on health care if we all got our daily dose of green exercise. The only thing we need to do is put on our walking shoes and go! 

BY Hanny Roskamp

Photo: Jurjen Drenth/Dutch Image

Solution News Source

Green is good

Every Sunday morning I go to the gym to do 30 minutes of strength training. I don’t really enjoy it but I see it as a kind of necessary physical therapy. After all, it slows muscle loss. And since I decided I don’t have to like it but that I do need to do it, I’ve managed to keep up with my routine for more than a year.
 

While I’m diligently lifting weights, others are building up a sweat on the treadmill. They’ve got their earbuds in, listening to music while staring at screens tuned in to MTV or CNN. There is a separation between what their eyes, ears and the rest of their bodies are doing, as if they want the time spent on this boring exercise requirement to pass as quickly as possible.
 

There’s no doubt that running on a treadmill is a good way to burn calories and keep fit. But is it enough? And isn’t there a way to exercise that’s healthier and more fun? According to recent research, the answer is yes. Our brains and bodies benefit much more from cycling, running or walking when we do it outdoors rather than indoors.
 

Green exercise, aka vitamin G, is starting to break through. A few gyms already offer outdoor classes, and there are more green recreation areas than ever before. Google “outdoor fitness meet-up groups” and you will find thousands of running clubs, outdoor yoga practices and kayaking teams. New York City recently introduced its first adult playgrounds in the Bronx; Miami offers an outdoor exercise trail along the beach; every day, thousands of Chicagoans run or ride the 18-mile Chicago Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan, which also has exercise hot spots with fitness facilities. In the UK, there are green programs for people suffering from burnout or dementia (see greenexercise.org). Exercising in nature is healthier because the air is cleaner. You maintain your workout longer because it’s more enjoyable and less monotonous than exercising in a gym. And it appears that having a view of greenery around you has a positive -mental effect.
 

“It’s natural for us as human beings to want and need to be outdoors,” explains Tina Vindum, author of Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym into the Best Shape of Your Life. Vindum became frustrated with indoor gyms in the early ’90s and started creating workout programs while running through the pine forests of the Sierra Nevadas. Outdoor exercise provides an uneven terrain that requires a broader range of motion, greater balance and more fine-motor movement. “These things combined offer a more dynamic workout overall, not to mention the cleaner air, sunshine and calming scenery, which have all been shown to enhance mood and relieve stress,” she explains.
 

“People are really healthier in a green environment,” concludes Jolanda Maas of the social medicine department of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam. Maas conducted epidemiological studies into the connection between nature and health. She looked at 345,000 city dwellers and examined how much greenery there was within a radius of half a mile to a mile of their homes. Using a database of primary care providers, she tallied the number of health problems they had. She limited her research to 24 medical issues, ranging from depression and diabetes to cancer.
 

In nine cases—including autoimmune diseases and allergies—she found no -connection, but in 15 others there was a clear link to the proximity of green space. The incidence of lung diseases, depression, anxiety and diabetes was considerably lower in a setting with more parks and wooded areas within a 1,100-yard radius. “These are all diseases and disorders that are common in our society and carry a huge price tag,” says Maas.
 

At a gathering of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Justin Sherwin of the University of Cambridge recently presented a study showing a connection with eye -disorders. Children and adolescents who spend more time outdoors have less chance of becoming nearsighted. Sherwin showed that every additional two hours children spend outside reduces the chance of becoming nearsighted by 2 percent. And nearsighted children spend an average of 3.7 more hours indoors per week than those with -better vision.
 

Sherwin even says there are indications from a study conducted by the University of Singapore that nearsightedness in children can be partly counteracted by getting them to spend more time outdoors. The study examined 80 nearsighted children aged 7 to 11. Half were required to spend more than 14 hours a week playing outside and were not allowed to spend more than 30 hours a week on homework. The other group was given no direction. Two years later, the “outdoor” group was less nearsighted. So green exercise could even be developed as a medical intervention or outdoor therapy prescription.
 

There are explanations for the healthy effect of nature. When you’re outdoors, you absorb sunlight, which stimulates the production of vitamin D. And that, in turn, helps protect you against cancer, depression and osteoporosis. Daylight also helps better regulate your biological clock, which improves your sleeping and eating patterns. And the air near trees and plants is cleaner, which decreases lung problems. And there’s more.
 

In a natural environment, your eyes frequently roam, which creates more variation between looking close up and far away. This trains your eye muscles. But just seeing trees and the color green without exercising has a stress-reducing effect on the brain. This insight has been used for years in color psychology and applied to interior design, for example. According to color psychologists, red makes people restless or indicates “danger,” perhaps because nature provides so many examples, like the flushed face of someone who is angry. What is clear is that colors and shapes make their way directly to the brain via the optic nerve and affect our emotional state.
 

Maas believes there is an evolutionary explanation for our positive experience of green. “Because people have traditionally lived surrounded by green, they still feel better in nature,” she says. “We are most closely connected with this type of environment and such a connection doesn’t simply vanish from our system.” Moreover, we feel more motivated to move when there is green around us. “When you’re in a green setting, it’s so pleasant you’re encouraged to exercise longer,” Maas believes. “You dedicate more time to it than you would in a traditional gym. You not only work but you relax, which creates a powerful synergy.”
 

I love taking advantage of the synergy -between exercise and relaxation in my daily life. I run or walk to the gym in the fresh air, preferably taking a detour through the park and along the water. I love this trip to the gym, in contrast to the weight training and machines I work on inside. I’m from a provincial town, and I spent a lot of time in nature when I was growing up. Maybe that’s why I prefer exercising outdoors.
 

But research conducted in recent years points to something else: namely, that the enjoyment I get from green exercise comes from a natural need we all share. Nearly all of us spend our days in an office, a car or a living room. And nearly half the world’s population lives in an urban environment, with that number set to increase. Now that there’s a gym on practically every corner, we’re encouraged to work out indoors, which makes the green trend logical.
 

But New York City plans to build at least a dozen more adult playgrounds—with metal racks for sit-ups, chin-up bars and balance beams—in different neighborhoods in the next several months. All over the UK the Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is setting up green gyms that integrate sports with nature conservancy near where people live. So a warm-up might be alternated with a -morning of weeding. Green Gym is a network of personal trainers in the UK, who give their training sessions o
utside and organize -British -Military Fitness outdoor training sessions in parks throughout the country.
 

-Initiatives are also underway in New Zealand to make training sessions greener; in -Auckland, members of Green Gyms can do their daily workouts in parks with professional trainers. Meanwhile, fitness equipment is being installed in increasing numbers of parks and open spaces, including in Queenstown. 
 

Initiatives are flourishing in other countries as well, from yoga in the park to outdoor running clubs. In Tel Aviv, exercise equipment has been installed along the beach to enable people to do their daily exercise class while breathing in the fresh ocean air. Canada recently marked the opening of Wood Buffalo, the largest open-air gym in North America. It has 54 machines spread over a 2,200-yard stretch, offering a -relaxing combination of the great outdoors and fitness.
 

If green is so important, why don’t we paint the gym walls green, decorate them with leaves or show nature films while people work out? Or simply turn on the Wii? Researchers from the University of Essex in the UK came up with a test to -determine whether the positive effect of green exercise is related to the visual experience of nature. They had groups of 20 people work out on a treadmill while looking at a wall on which both rural and urban scenes were projected. Before and after the training, the participants’ blood pressure was taken and they reported how they were feeling.

There was a positive effect from physical exercise alone—even looking at a blank wall. Their blood pressure fell and their mood improved, as did their self-esteem. But the effect was amplified when they exercised while watching a film of a pleasant, green environment. Conversely, an unpleasant, urban environment counteracted the positive effect of the training.
 

So you don’t necessarily have to go outside for green exercise. And, of course, in winter, exercising inside in a virtual nature setting can be a definite advantage. But Maas argues that it’s still best to get outside: “Nature reduces stress, encourages social contacts. All these aspects come together and you can’t simply re-create them in an artificial environment.”
 

It turns out we may even live longer if we spend more time outdoors or in the countryside. Researchers from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University examined a group of 3,144 elderly residents of the Japanese capital. Their chance of being alive five years later increased markedly if they had close access to parks or green, tree-lined streets. Even if we’re not exercising, our mental health benefits from this “green feeling.” Simply having indoor plants is known to benefit people in office environments. But exercising in a green setting has the most powerful effect.
 

Researchers have also considered whether there is a minimum amount of time we need to spend outdoors each day. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton from the University of Essex studied 1,252 individuals, measuring the relationship between their mental well-being and time spent in their gardens, at a park or near water. They discovered that five minutes of exercise outside is enough to boost mood and strengthen self-worth. Green exercise makes you happier, more energetic and less angry. Gardening works, too, or even walking the dog. Moreover, there was a clear dose-response relationship: the more, the better.
 

Humans evolved in forests and on vast plains, not in apartments and office buildings. The need to be outside is ingrained in our nature. We would probably spend a lot less money on health care if we all got our daily dose of green exercise. The only thing we need to do is put on our walking shoes and go! 

BY Hanny Roskamp

Photo: Jurjen Drenth/Dutch Image

Solution News Source

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