For Exercise, Nothing Like the Great Outdoors

Long walks can improve moods and reduce anxiety, but the benefits may be greatest if the walks take place outdoors rather than in a gym, according to a new study by researchers in Austria. And while the Alps may be a particularly fine place to hike, a vigorous walk in the woods or paths near home may provide the mental boost we need to keep us moving.

We all know, by now, that for optimal health, we need to move. But research and anecdotal experience indicate that people rarely exercise if they do not enjoy it. Workouts, for many, are something like possessions: If they don’t spark joy, they tend to be discarded.

Many different aspects of exercise are thought to affect how much we like working out. But in general, most experts agree that a workout’s intensity and its duration have the greatest influence on our feelings about it.

The study compared outdoor mountain hiking with treadmill walking. The mountain hiking turned out to have been, objectively, the most strenuous of the workouts. Although the altitude gains during the indoor and outdoor walking had been comparable, people’s heart rates had risen higher during the mountain hike.

But, interestingly, almost all the participants reported that the outdoor effort had felt less strenuous to them than their time on the treadmill.

And their mood scores were much higher after the outdoor hike than the treadmill workout, indicating that they had enjoyed that workout more than being in the gym.

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