Friday, December 3, 2010

A Walk In the Park

I always joke that I need my workouts to help me distress. It always seems that “mean mommy” makes an appearance on the days when there isn’t time for a run. I had previously chalked this up to the endorphins from exercise, the power of a good sweat and the boost I get from listening to my favorite music. I may have missed that where I do my workout is just as important as whether or not I do it. I marvel at Central Park when I’m running.  When I look around it seems incredible to have such beauty in the middle of a city.  I snapped the photo above during my run today.  Thinking about this post, I focused more on the scenery and less on my speed.

A study conducted in the UK compared a group walking in a shopping mall to another group walking in the park.  After walking in the park 90% of participants claimed increased self esteem, 88% improved mood and 71% felt less tense, these numbers were under 50% in all criteria for the mall walkers. Other research showed people slides depicting scenes from nature and mood was significantly improved.

Here are some of explanations given as to how outside time is beneficial:
Natural and social connections: watching wildlife, evoking good memories, spiritual feelings
Sensory stimulation: colors and sounds, fresh air, enjoyment, escape from pollution, contrasts with urban life, being exposed to the weather
Activity: using manual skills, physically challenging activities such as digging or cycling
Escape from modern life: time to think and reflect, clear the head, get away from pressures and stress.

In terms of exercise, a 1994 study out of the University of Utah compared the 5K times of runners on treadmills, an indoor track and outside. The fastest times were recorded outdoors, the slowest on the treadmill. Runners on the treadmill perceived their workout to be more strenuous than those who ran at the same intensity outside. In fact running outdoors scored higher than the treadmill in the areas of positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility, course satisfaction and lower in the time to exhaustion.

Again, I have to emphasize that while exercising outdoors can be a major mood booster, as little as 5-10 minutes spent outside, even stationary, can make a difference to your stress level and your outlook. Those 10 minutes a day may keep mean mommy (or mean daddy or mean coworker) away.
How will you spend time outside today? Perhaps snap a photo and send it my way. Do you feel being outside is beneficial/believe in "ecotherapy"?


  1. I really enjoyed this entry, thank you very much! :)

    Tooday I won't be outside that much.. Tomorrow, however, Todd and I will do a 3-4 hour hike up in Harriman State Park! I can't wait. :)

    C. Petroski

  2. Lovely post, Lauren.
    I’m pretty sure contact with nature promotes good mental health, relaxation and even faster recovery from disease.

    A classic study showed hospital patients with a view of trees — as opposed to a brick wall— tended to have shorter stays and better outcomes. Several other studies have shown that green spaces are positively related to people’s self-perceived health and mortality risk.

    In his book “Biophilia,” famed biologist Edward O. Wilson suggests there’s an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems, and that we have an innate attraction to nature. (I have a few friends who argue with that, and insist that they absolutely hate the outdoors, but they’re the exception, and frankly are even more bizarre than people who hate chocolate!)

  3. it's funny how much better i do feel after a walk but how seldom i take them...lynn even takes care of walking the dog now. i remember when she was little, tommy june would immediately be soothed by going outside. lynn NEEDS to be outdoors. his garden is on about 40 acres of prairie land, and i notice that he can be grumpy if about five days pass and he hasn't been out there. even if it's in the middle of winter, he still needs to go and just be there.

  4. Such an important post. Spending time outside is so vital for self and sanity in my estimation. I think that we city dwellers too often forget how important Nature is and that contact with the natural world is essential to physical and emotional well-being. Once Baby 3, arrives, I plan to embrace outdoor exercise even more. I have always been partial to the gym, but am realizing how beneficial it would be for me to burn those calories in the open air.

  5. I haven't been able to go for my daily walk for a while now since i've been laid up from a surgery. I totally agree with you on this post. Im very antsy girlfriend and mean co-worker at this point. cannot wait to be able to get the cold weather gear on and go for a walk.