Psychological Benefits of Green Exercise

Research

Exercise has been shown to improve psychological well-being. However, new research provides evidence that green exercise, which is exercising outdoors, has additional benefits. One study compared 4 groups of participants. The first group, called the green control group, cycled outdoors in greenery while the second group, the indoor control group, cycled indoors. The third and fourth groups watched a promotional video on the benefits of green exercise. The third group known as the green-expectancy group watched the video then cycled outdoors and the fourth group known as the indoor-expectancy group cycled indoors after watching the video. Once the exercise was completed, attitudes toward green exercise, vigor, perceived exertion, and self-esteem were assessed, as well as how knowing the positive effects of outdoor exercise before working out can improve the overall benefits.

The study found that the green control group experienced a substantial improvement in vigor compared to the indoor control group. Interestingly, the green expectancy group was found to have a greater improvement in vigor and self-esteem when compared to the green control group. The researchers discovered that when participants were informed about the psychological benefits of green exercise, they experienced a significant increase in psychological well-being. Therefore, it is very beneficial to share this research on the psychological benefits of green exercise to enhance the benefits of exercising outdoors.

Another study compared the mental benefits of a short walk indoors versus outdoors. These findings included:

  • Positive engagement during and after exercise is significantly higher during outdoor exercise.
  • Feeling pleased AND delighted were greater when exercising outside.
  • Feelings of frustration were lower when exercising outside.
  • More energy is experienced when exercising outside.
  • Participants exercising outdoors were least tired.
  • Exercise outside was reported to be the most enjoyable.

In a previous HIN article, additional benefits are discussed such as the positive impacts Vitamin D has on a person and the activation of more muscles while exercising outside. To learn more about the physical benefits of green exercise, please refer to the Benefits of Working Outside article.

Benefits of Working out Outside

Personal Account

Sophomore Maggie McCarthy from Oak Lawn, IL shared her experience with outdoor exercise versus indoors. McCarthy runs 3 to 4 times a week and much prefers running outdoors to indoors.

“Running outdoors helps me feel like I am genuinely getting up and going somewhere. I am able to run a distance where every step has a unique view or something to look at. It makes exercising seem like something I want to do rather than something I have to be doing. The fresh air significantly eases much of my anxiety as well as improves my sense of control – I can run wherever I want to go. Running indoors means staring at the same machine for however long I choose too. The time goes by much slower and makes exercising feel like a chore. I cannot choose where I am going and usually the speed I want to go is set for the duration of my workout. The absence of fresh air indoors is detrimental to my motivation to workout indoors.”

I then asked McCarthy if her anxiety symptoms improve from both outdoor and indoor runs, and how she stays motivated during the colder months.

“Working out indoors does not noticeably ease my anxiety like being outdoors does. Both help my anxiety in some way because of the endorphins released during exercise, but I have found myself significantly more focused and motivated after an outdoor workout. I cannot say the same for an indoor workout. As far as running in the winter months, I find myself bundling up and at least getting a couple miles in outdoors when it is possible. However if it is too cold or snowy, I will run on a treadmill but it is not as enjoyable to me.”

taken by Maggie O’Malley of Maggie McCarthy

References

P.Flowers, Elliott, et al. “Enhancing the Acute Psychological Benefits of Green Exercise: An Investigation of Expectancy Effects.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Elsevier, 31 Aug. 2018, https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S1469029217307999?token=4D244935E319FF808F121871CA3EB3B0D83D62171EA6229FEE2D5D95A2361D65BFAE5C5A92B9050D6B0EA3B0D0F211E1&originRegion=us-east-1&originCreation=20220215143114.

Thompson Coon, J., et al. “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 45, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1761–1772., https://doi.org/10.1021/es102947t.

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