Arboretum News

Exercise in the Outdoors

Five ways being in nature will benefit your health and wellbeing.

COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.

Biking on Three-Mile Drive is a great way to exercise and enjoy nature. Photo by Norbert Lucas.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Staying physically healthy and emotionally grounded can begin with a single step out the door. One-step can lead to a daily nature-based routine where muscle memory trump’s effort. Even when feeling less than enthusiastic, memory assures you will feel better once outside and in nature. Fortunately, science agrees, being in nature does improve health. 

Here are five ways being in nature will benefit your health and wellbeing:

1. Nature nurtures attention restoration.

The demands of on our attention to deal with activities of daily living are immense. In contrast, being in and connected to natural settings allow our attention to rest. The Michigan scientist’s Rachel and Steve Kaplan call this, Attention Restoration Theory.  Where the soft fascination aspects of nature (e.g. bird fluttering, butterflies sipping nectar, flowing water, the sound of wind in trees, etc.) provided us with just enough cognitive activity to keep us interested, while allowing our directed attention capacities (think email from boss, children exploring the stove, dog in garbage, etc.) to rest. When directed attention is fatigued, we become irritable, and find it difficult to focus and concentrate.  Allowing our brains to rest and restore – reboots our capacity to address the daily life stress.

2. Exercising outside in nature offers more benefits.

Exercising in nature allows for restoration of both the body and mind. Exercise indoors is fine, but when you are outside in nature, the environment provides the benefit of helping create mental clarity, the air is cleaner and it is usually less crowded. Scientists Jo Barton and Jules Pretty call this Green Exercise. Their research suggests exercising outdoors within green spaces may benefit far beyond just the physical, as it addresses the social aspect that we crave, thus increasing our enjoyment and contributing to positive behavior change.

3. Solitude and quiet decrease stress.

We live in a loud world. Did you know sound pollution is associated with a number of health problems, including increases in stress and violent behavior? Noise inhibits our ability to concentrate compared to being in nature that is mostly free of human noise and structures provides “cognitive space.” Nature immersion provides us the chance to disconnect from technology and stress. 

4. Immune system strengthened.

Research in Japan has found spending time in forests increases the number of natural killer cells and their activity in our bodies help to strengthen the immune system.

5. Brain stimulation.

When I am outside, my brain feels good and it seems the more I’m able to immerse myself, the more my ideas are unlocked. Research tells us spending time in nature may bring a sense of awe and inspiring energy. In fact, the data suggests being in nature can increase our prosocial behavior.  

So next time you are outside – look, listen, relax and take in nature all around you.  We all deserve a dose of nature each day.

Our annual Bud Break 5k Run/Walk is planned for May 2.

An opportunity to combine nature & exercise at the Arb

Enjoy the benefits of exercise in the outdoors at our annual Bud Break 5k run/walk on May 2! Find details and register for the Bud Break 5k.

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