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What is green exercise and should you be doing it?

In the middle of a dense rainforest, a man runs and jumps through the air, only his legs visible.
There are plenty of ways to get active in nature in Queensland.

It would be easy to think it’s another health craze touted by GOOP, but ‘green exercise’ is actually a phenomenon that researchers have been studying for some years.

It turns out that exercising in the presence of nature can have health benefits beyond getting your blood pumping. Studies show that exercising in natural environments can have positive effects on self-esteem and improve your mood, and the effect is especially noticed in people with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Exercising around water may be optimal, but any natural environment is beneficial. And you don’t have to be outside for hours at a time; just ten minutes will be enough to have an effect.

So how can you green it up? First of all, it’s important to remember to always practice sun safety when you’re outside, as UV levels in many parts of Australia remain high throughout the year, and keep hydration in mind while exercising.

Once that’s taken care of, follow the steps below to get green.

1. Leverage Your Lunch Break

How often do you eat at your desk, or skip your break altogether, even though you know it’s bad for you? Taking your lunch break allows you to refuel, gives your brain a break and is a great opportunity to switch up your body posture.

Get the benefits of having lunch as well as being outside by finding out where the nearest park, lake or riverside walkway is and take a stroll or jog during lunch a few times a week.

2. Explore Your Environment

Discovering a different nearby national park each weekend is a great way to get to know your surrounds and get some incidental exercise. Pack a healthy picnic and plenty of water, grab a mate and go exploring.

A man and woman ride bikes down the footpath of a suburban street.

3. Have A ‘Ditch The Gym’ Day

No, this isn’t permission to throw in the towel on exercise altogether! With low overhead costs and the beauty of working out outdoors, many trainers are setting up outdoor exercise classes in public parks. Commit to an outdoor boot camp, participate in sunrise yoga or join a free Heart Foundation walking group to fit a bit more nature into your workout.

4. Get Your Green Thumb On

Gardening has proven benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a great way to get some gentle exercise and de-stress at the same time, while getting a sense of satisfaction from helping things grow.

If you don’t have a yard to dig into, a few pots or portable planters will do. Or you can get involved with your local community garden or farm.

5. Go On A Photography Walk

Get your hashtags ready and take your camera out for a walk in nature. Whether you focus on fine details or wider landscapes, you’ll get the benefits of green exercise without even realising you are exercising at all. If the great expanse of the outdoors intimidates you, keep a few photo prompts in mind to help guide your lens.

A young woman walks across a path of rocks that cross a small waterhole in the bush.

What If I Can’t Go Green?

Exercising outdoors isn’t going to be an amazing all-ailments panacea. Any exercise is better than none, so if it’s easiest for you to pop in to the gym on your lunch break or do some squats in front of the TV, don’t sweat it. There are numerous studies showing that all exercise can be great for your mood and mental health, regardless of where you do it.

But if you do get the occasional chance to go for a bushwalk or hang out in a park or garden, chances are you’ll feel better for taking it.

This post was first published on behalf of Queensland Health on The Cusp.

Last updated: 7 February 2018