Ever considered starting an exercise program – only to give up the idea because you thought you couldn’t afford the expensive kit or gym fees?
Good news: doing something as simple as taking a walk outside can provide you with amazing health benefits. And it’s completely free!
What can exercise do for you?
Exercise isn’t just good for your physical health 1https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389 It’s great for your mental health as well. 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/ Research shows that people who exercise regularly report improved quality of life, reduced psychological stress, and improved physical function.
How does exercise benefit your mental health?
Studies have shown an association between lack of physical activity and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of endorphins.3https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise Furthermore, people who have regular access to nature are less likely to be on anti-depressants.4https://www.mdpi.com/2673-5318/3/1/8/htm
Regular exercise delivers lasting benefits too. Research has demonstrated improvements in cognitive function, cerebral blood flow, reduced oxidative stress response, increased neurotransmitter levels, neural plasticity, improved blood-brain barrier function and improved ability to concentrate and process information!5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6384011/
What about gut health?
Exercise and spending time outdoors in nature are two well-tested techniques for supporting gut health. Exercise increases levels of butyrate, a compound produced by gut bacteria that supports immunity. Butyrate is a powerful anti-inflammatory, has anti-cancer properties, and provides energy for cells of the gut lining.6https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/butyric-acid Research suggests that exercise can actually enhance the number, diversity, and development of gut bacteria.7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357536/ The World Health Organisation suggests we each do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for good health, along with two sessions of strength training.8https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
What’s the impact of outdoor exercise?
Exercising outdoors or just spending time in nature is super-beneficial for your gut. Being outside in nature is naturally calming and helps lower stress9https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981243/ – which is good news for your microbiome! Stress is almost always felt in our digestion10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5736941/ (thanks to that gut-brain axis). Scientists have shown being under stress reduces the number and diversity of the microbiota,11https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7213601/ and poor gut health in turn can cause or exacerbate mental health symptoms.
One of the easiest ways to naturally increase your microbial diversity is simply by being around different types of bacteria, and being outside exposes you to millions of microbes that can benefit your microbiome. Tens of thousands of different bacterial gene sequences can be found in a single air or soil sample; these microbes can colonise our bodies when we are exposed to them.12https://massivesci.com/articles/outdoor-green-space-microbiome-benefits-soil-air/
Bring the kids too! It has been shown that exposing children to dirt and ‘germs’ is an essential part of establishing their immune system. Furthermore, there is an association between exposure to diverse bacterial communities in early life and reduced occurrence of asthma and allergies.13https://massivesci.com/articles/outdoor-green-space-microbiome-benefits-soil-air/
Whatever you do, and wherever you choose – Just get moving!
As human beings, we are inextricably linked into nature – and being out in it just makes us happier and healthier. So what kind of exercise is best? The kind that YOU will do! Any kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping has huge benefits for stress reduction. Exercise regularly and you will benefit from a calmer, happier and more focused state of mind. Exercise outside and you are reaping every possible benefit – while massively benefiting and adding to the trillions of bacteria inside your gut.