Exercising Outside Makes You Happier

Reader Contribution by Susan Melgren and Web Editor
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We all know that exercise makes us happy. Exercise releases endorphins in our brains, lifting our spirits and lightening our moods. And for most of us, being outside–soaking up the natural light, breathing in fresh air–also makes us happy. So what if you combine the two and exercise outside? Would you be twice as happy?

That’s what researchers at the University of Essex wanted to find out when they began their study on “green exercise.” (In this instance, green exercise refers to exercising outside, as opposed to exercising on equipment that doesn’t require electricity.) For the study, the researchers looked at ten years’ worth of data from previous studies, focusing on the type of activities people engaged in and the effect those activities had on their mental health. The researchers discovered that people who participated in outside activities–walking, gardening, farming, riding bicycles–saw greater positive effects from the exercise than did others. Any kind of natural environment, even parks in big cities, were enough to provide the mental benefits, but the biggest boost came from exercising near water.

Exercising outside makes you happier than exercising indoors. For the biggest mental boost, exercise near water. Photo By Joshua Schoorl/Courtesy Flickr

You don’t have to spend long outside to experience these benefits. The researchers concluded that just five minutes of outside activity is enough to improve your mood and self esteem. Exercising for longer than five minutes is obviously important for reaping the utmost health benefits, but it’s nice to know that a short walk around the block makes you feel better, especially when you might only have a short break at work.

One of the study’s researchers said he hopes the data can be used from a policy standpoint to increase our connection to nature, whether it’s earning more funding for public parks and better beach access to creating landscaping guidelines for schools.

Do you exercise outside or inside?

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