The best places to exercise may not be gyms, but rather the forests and fields. Science Daily reports the results of a study of eight hundred thirty-three adults in the U.K., saying, “compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression.”
The authors of the report say that the topic needs more study with larger population samples, and argue in favor of doing this, since “Seventy-five percent of the European populations live in urban environments.” According to our 2010 census, nearly eighty-one percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas.
This caught my attention after our recent hike in Mt. Rainier National Park. The fresh air, chattering of Clark’s nutcrackers, abundant wildflowers, gorgeous greenery, and of course the majestic mountain in full sun joined to make a perfect outdoor experience. I didn’t notice everyday joint and muscle pains and could have kept hiking if we had more time. The feeling of euphoria carried over into the next day, despite the itching and welts caused by the swarms of mountain mosquitos who dined out on my face and neck and even jabbed their nasty little probosces through the fabric of my tee-shirt.
Inspired by that hike, we went out into the woods again looking for those “greater feelings of revitalization and increased energy” and found them. I read about today’s destination — Twin Falls Natural Area in Olallie State Park– in a 2009 Seattle Times article called, “Five easy places.” We went to see waterfalls and weren’t disappointed. The water barreled many feet down the rock face, pooling in shallow basins before regaining momentum and continuing its plunge.
Since we were in the forest, green was the most obvious color to heed, from the yellow tones of the mosses, to the darker shades of fern fronds and even darker branches of fir trees. Dead stumps and logs, blue water crashing white against grey rock and the black stripes across the brown backs of chipmunks enlivened the color palette. Commenting on the British studies, another researcher, Jules Pretty, said, “All natural environments were beneficial… Green areas with water added something extra. A blue and green environment seems even better for health.” Western Washington fits this profile perfectly.
I have to believe the British scientists are on the right track. Working out in a gym is great for the body, but doesn’t offer the same benefits to the spirit that the natural world does. On the other hand, you don’t find many mosquitoes in the gym.