Nature+Exercise: Your Double Defense Against S.A.D.

Looking to gain more than just physical health from your workouts? Look no farther than out your kitchen window. Numerous studies have linked exercising in the great outdoors to enhanced mood, greater attention span (Hello, focus!), and cognitive capacity. Not to mention exercising outside will help you feel more energized post-workout. These studies are so encouraging they have even prompted the development of green spaces in urban areas!

Lucky me, southeast Nebraska is essentially one big green space (or white or dull brown after the snow melts). Rural living provides no shortage of gravel road running trails. Unfortunately, in the middle of winter, I’m forced to trade my gravel roads for a black conveyor belt and my green grass for a yoga mat. But here are 5 ways that I survive the unpredictable Midwestern winters.

  1. I plan my workouts based on the weather forecast. Winter storm rolling in? No problem– REST DAY! 40 degrees in January? Heck yeah– I’m lacing up for a run or a long walk with my four legged pacers. JK, they’re always way ahead of me. I take advantage of the warmest days and use them to stretch my legs. Plus, running in cool weather is much easier on our bodies than logging miles in the summer heat and humidity.
  2. I workout in a room with plenty of natural light. A study conducted by a university in Taiwan found that window views of nature, or even just having houseplants reduced levels of anxiety. Combine that with self-esteem boosting exercise endorphins and you have a two-level defense against SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Remember just 15 minutes of sunlight exposure to your face and hands a day are enough to combat symptoms of SAD.
  3. I sleep–a lot. I mean, I sleep a lot year ’round but winter’s short days and cool temps are conducive to great sleep. Winter is nature’s way of telling you to rest up for the busy summer ahead. In addition to a solid sweat session, take care of your mental health by getting plenty of sleep, which is essential for adrenal health and weight control.
  4. When I really can’t get outside (read: refuse to go), I sweat anyways. Whether it’s a 45 minute walk on the treadmill or a 15 minute Pilates workout– my aim is just to do something. This winter I am trying my hand at yoga because its a great, low-impact workout. I’m working my muscles in new ways while letting it rest up for my spring running goals.*Note: It’s so much harder than I thought it would be so kudos to yogis everywhere.
  5. Look ahead to spring! Hit the ground running in March by setting some goals to accomplish this spring and summer. The promise of warmer days will give you hope in the middle of this seemingly endless winter abyss. And knowing your goals ahead of time will motivate you to lay the ground work this winter.

Using nature can enhance the mental benefits of exercise and help you maintain sanity when Mother Nature is spitting snow and wind. If you suffer from anxiety or SAD or just want a brain boost, incorporate more natural elements like plants and natural light into your exercise space. But don’t forget that the “where” isn’t as important as the “what”. If your heart is in the gym, don’t fret. Your mental well-being is better off just for working out.


Author: Tiffany Ebke
Photo by Roxane Clediere on Unsplash
Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash
Lawton, E., Brymer, E., Clough, P., & Denovan, A. (2017). The Relationship between the Physical Activity Environment, Nature Relatedness, Anxiety, and the Psychological Well-being Benefits of Regular Exercisers. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01058
Hart, J. (2016). Eat pretty every day: 365 daily inspirations for nourishing beauty, inside and out. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Chang, C.Y., Chen, P.K. (2005). Human response to window views and indoor plants in the workplace. Horticult, Sci. 40, 1354-1359

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