Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
Let me ask you a question. Have you gone green?
I don’t mean green in the way you’re probably thinking, though. And I don’t mean just because St. Patricks Day is in mid March you’ve gone green. I mean have you gone green in your exercise and movement world?
I’m sure you’d agree that there’s no question as to whether exercise provides health benefits. It’s also true that research suggests that exercising in a “green environment” may provide even more health benefits when compared to exercise alone. In fact, green exercise has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, increase self-esteem, and enhance perceived health.
Let’s take a closer look at the positive physiological and psychological benefits associated with green exercise.
Why We Need Exercise in the Wilderness
For the past 2.4 million years, approximately 84,000 generations of our ancestors lived a lifestyle comprised of hunting and gathering. Our ancestors foraged and hunted for food and water and built and maintained their clothing and shelter. They were busy and active with their lives, which required large amounts of physical work.
As we all can attest, from an evolutionary perspective, there have been rapid improvements in technology and now for most of us the physical work required each day is really minimal.
As a reminder, technological advancements over a 10,000-year time span highlighted by the Agricultural Revolution (the past 350 generations), Industrial Revolution (the past seven generations) and, in particular, the Digital Age (the past two generations), have resulted in the elimination of most previously required physical activities.
Here’s what I find fascinating, though. Despite the quantum leap in technology during this 10,000-year period, our genetic profile has remained largely unchanged.
Unfortunately for us all, this lack of needing to perform physical activities in our regular movement each day leaves our bodies confused and vulnerable. The gap between what our genetic profile needs for its normal functioning and what we actually do each day creates an environment ideal for the manifestation of various chronic diseases.
Particularly over the past 100 years, there has been a dramatic and widespread rise in the prevalence of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions, nonexistent-to-rare in the ancient world, are now common throughout modern society.
Since the turn of the 20th century there has also been a rise in the number of people living in urban areas relative to rural settings. Less access to the green environments found in and around rural areas has been linked to high levels of psychophysiological stress, elevated blood pressure, and increased risk of mortality.
So, what is the solution to this epidemic of chronic diseases?
There is no magic bullet, but taking a closer look at the physical activity patterns of our Paleolithic ancestors does help us understand what is needed to restore metabolic health and well-being.
This includes exercise in the wilderness or green exercise.
What Is Green Exercise?
The term green exercise refers to exercise performed in natural environments. Though regular exercise has great benefits, in the past couple of decades studies have focused on whether a synergistic effect exists in terms of health benefits when exercise is performed in natural environments.
From this research there is evidence that green exercise provides an assortment of beneficial responses ranging from improved cognitive function and enhanced cardiac function to reduced levels of circulating stress hormones.
Here are some practical recommendations for you regarding green exercise.
It is sad but true that natural outdoor environments are continuously shrinking, creating a challenge in pursuing green exercise. I don’t mean to negate that pollution, non-trivial ultraviolet radiation (UV) and environmental stressors (high heat and/or humidity) may pose health risks and therefore limit green exercise in certain geographical locations. Yet, the need for green exercise is real, so I want to make sure you’re optimizing the extra health benefits from going green.
Recommendations for green exercise programming parallel widespread physical activity recommendations: moderate-intensity green exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days per week (or 150 minutes) or vigorous-intensity green exercise for a minimum of 25 minutes, three days per week (or 75 minutes) or an equivalent combination of both.
We were designed to move on grass or dirt. Ideally, the more walking you can do on natural surfaces, the better. We are also genetically adapted to daily, high volumes of low-to-moderate intensity walking. Anywhere between 1 to 5 miles/day is recommended. As you all know, until my pedometer registers my 10,000 steps a day, I keep moving!
Here’s an interesting way to view green exercise. Green exercise can include activities related to the acquisition of food. Unfortunately for me, that doesn’t mean going for my afternoon espresso! Indeed, for thousands of years a natural relationship existed between outdoor physical activity and procurement of food and water. Recommended green exercise activities would include:
I encourage you to choose weekly social and/or recreational activities that require a meaningful amount of physical exertion in a green environment. Recommended activities include:
• Group outdoor classes (boot camp, Yoga, Zumba)
• Cross-country skiing
or my personal favorite, going to the beach with a friend and throwing a frisbee around. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll know that it takes a lot of energy to run in the sand while catching a frisbee.
There is a relationship between intensity and duration of green exercise and the health benefits you’ll receive. Therefore, you can gain substantial benefits from short, light-intensity doses of green exercise. This is good to keep in mind because we don’t always have hours to go out for a hike. A shorter walk around a lake, for instance, works wonders.
Studies show that increased green space availability and access encourages us to spend more time outdoors in green exercise and related activities. This makes sense, right? Do remember to protect yourself from sun exposure by wearing appropriate gear such as hats and UV-protective clothing.
So there you have it. As I often say, it’s great when science backs up what we somehow intuitively know to be true. I never feel as good exercising indoors as I do when I’m outdoors in a green environment getting fresh air and moving about. Swimming is one of my main activities and I’m blessed to be able to swim outdoors. That environment may be more blue than green, but it still feels great.
How about you? Do you notice the difference when you do green exercise? Do you have special activities or places you go for your green exercise? If not, I encourage you to think about what I’ve written in this month’s newsletter and get going on going green!