Why Exercise Outdoors? Stress Reduction, Improved Memory, and Other Benefits

Why Exercise Outdoors? Stress Reduction, Improved Memory, and Other Benefits

The world of exercise and sports has long been diverse. However, some so-called trendy activities that people engage in simply because they are in vogue today, are unavoidable. One of them is certainly the excessive emphasis on working out in the gym, which makes you forget about outdoor activities. This can also extend to your personal life as well, as you get used to spending a lot of time indoors, whether it’s your home, work, public transportation, shopping malls, or other parts of the concrete jungle. Life may seem comfortable at first glance, but on the other hand, you lose contact with nature.

Nature was once the alpha and omega of our existence because from an evolutionary perspective, humans spent thousands of years outdoors. They hunted in nature, migrated, and engaged in various activities under the open sky. However, this lifestyle has rapidly changed in recent decades, and people generally prefer to stay indoors. Perhaps a greater desire for privacy, your comfortable couch, or air conditioning when the outdoor heat is unbearable is to blame. However, the fact remains that we, as humans, have not fully explored all the consequences of such changes.

Losing contact with nature robs us of many different benefits. These benefits are so significant that they should be of particular interest to fitness enthusiasts who can’t imagine exercising anywhere other than their favourite gym. Rarely do they realize the valuable advantages of outdoor conditions when they spend most of their time indoors. However, there’s a wide range of outdoor activities out there, including the concept of “green exercise.”

Why Exercise Outdoors? Stress Reduction, Improved Memory, and Other Benefits

What does green exercise actually mean?

If you want to exercise in the style of green exercise, there’s no need to paint yourself green and turn into the Hulk. In practice, green exercise is any exercise or physical activity that takes place outdoors. When we break it down to the basics, it can be as simple as taking a walk in the park, riding a bike, walking the dog, gardening, or any interaction with greenery or nature. Hiking, outdoor sports (climbing, rafting…), and outdoor activities like yoga are also excellent examples.

Such physical activity is associated with a range of different advantages. Whilst being outdoor, a person not only becomes more connected with nature but can also learn more about the world around them. Whether you decide to go on an educational trail, mushroom picking, or simply explore various trees and natural nooks and crannies, it all counts.

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Benefits of Outdoor Physical Activity or Green Exercise

Studies in this area speak clearly, and the benefits of physical activity in a natural environment often exceed those gained from indoor exercise or sports. Green exercise can bring not only physical but also mental benefits that positively impact our overall well-being. [2]

1. Stress Reduction

Mental exhaustion is one of the main threats affecting many people in today’s fast-paced world. Work, school, even our private lives – anything can be stressful with numerous stimuli competing for our limited attention every day. Whether it’s endless smartphone notifications, the urge to scroll through social media, or other stimuli bombarding us from all sides, their continuous stimulation can overwhelm our attention and increase stress levels. This can ultimately have a negative impact on our health. That’s why it’s important to slow down and take care of not only our physical but also our mental well-being.

One excellent way to achieve this can be physical activity in nature. This theory is supported by a 2010 study that concluded that exercising in nature can help better manage stress. This could be particularly appreciated by people with stressful jobs such as doctors or managers, as well as students and anyone who frequently encounters stressful situations in life. [3–4]

The best part is that spending time in nature doesn’t have to disrupt your daily schedule, and you don’t need to be outdoors 24/7 like our prehistoric ancestors. A 2019 study suggests that spending at least 2 hours per week in nature is enough for the positive effects on mental health and well-being to manifest. If you break it down, that’s about 17 minutes a day. Almost anyone should be able to find this amount of time for a short walk in nature. [3–4]

You can try activities like running, which is an excellent example of outdoor physical activity and offers numerous benefits. You can learn more about its impact on your body in the article 11 Reasons to Start Running. How Will It Change Your Body?

Outdoor Activity and Stress Reduction

2. More Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial for our body due to its complex mechanism of action. It is involved in various biological processes and supports the immune system, normal calcium levels in the blood, and the proper functioning of muscles. It also contributes to maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D, which you can enjoy during outdoor activities or spending time in nature. During these times, you receive more sunlight than when you spend your time indoors. [5–6]

If you’re interested in this topic, don’t miss our article Vitamin D: Why It’s So Important, What Causes Its Deficiency, and How to Supplement It.

3. Positive Impact on Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is another serious problem affecting many people. While they often manage it with prescription medications, doctors also recommend lifestyle changes. Outdoor physical activity, which can offer more benefits compared to indoor training, fits perfectly into this category. For example, outdoor running can have more benefits than running on a treadmill. In this case, nature itself, as mentioned earlier, helps reduce stress. Ultimately, it’s a cocktail of physical activity combined with nature, which can be more beneficial than indoor exercise.

Various studies support these claims and also highlight benefits for blood pressure. Research has focused on the impact of a green walk on heart rate and blood pressure. The study involved a group of participants walking in green (parks) and suburban environments. The group walking in the green environment (green exercise) recorded a more positive effect on heart rate variability and a reduction in systolic blood pressure. The results of people walking in the suburban environment were slightly worse. [14]

Another study from 2015 examined the effects of regular physical activity compared to outdoor activity. It involved walking for 30 minutes daily with moderate intensity for one week. The first group walked in a city park full of greenery, while the second group walked on a busy city street. The group walking in the park recorded a greater reduction in diastolic blood pressure and resting heart rate. Therefore, if you’re planning to take a walk today and want to make the most of its benefits, according to scientists, choosing a green environment is a better option. [7–8]

You can read more about some other benefits of sports and exercise in the article Why Exercise and Work Out? Stronger Immunity, a Healthy Heart, and 8 More Reasons.

Exercising in nature has a positive impact on heart rate and blood pressure

4. Return to Nature

Outdoor physical activity can be a great way to reconnect with nature and make small changes to your urban lifestyle. Moreover, you’ll discover the beauty and diversity of your surroundings, which you’ll come to appreciate more. You can explore places you didn’t know existed or hadn’t explored before. A walk in nature also provides you with valuable time for reflection, allowing you to gain perspective on various phases of life.

Not to mention the pleasant experiences that will help you fully enjoy the present moments. If you enjoy it, you might even discover your inner tourist or nature photographer. You don’t have to focus solely on walks. Time spent outdoors is also an excellent opportunity for leisure and recreation.

There are many activities out there. Especially in summer, when you can spend time on the beach or try one of the countless sport activities. If you’re not particularly inclined toward sports, returning to nature can also mean using its resources, following in the footsteps of our ancestors. You can venture into a forest to pick mushrooms (only where it’s allowed), gather fresh herbs, or various other fruits. Rose hips are a great example. After drying them, you can make a tasty and vitamin-packed tea or use them to prepare bear’s garlic, ideal for making pesto. Regardless of the outcome, returning to nature can only bring you benefits, and it’s definitely worth trying.

5. Mental Health Support

Nature is a powerful enchantress and can create a multitude of positive emotions, such as joy and peace, as well as support concentration and creativity. That’s why it’s often associated with promoting mental health, which is somewhat neglected but all the more important in today’s busy world.

Studies show that people who are more connected to nature generally feel happier and have a sense that their life is worth living. The time spent in green meadows, forests, parks, by lakes, or on various green surfaces matters most.

Research that analyzed the connection between nature and health also found a positive impact on:

  • Cognitive functions
  • Brain activity
  • Blood pressure
  • Mental health
  • Sleep [15]

The positive effects are observed even when you watch nature-focused documentaries. According to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, watching high-quality nature programs can improve mood, reduce negative emotions, and help alleviate feelings of indoor isolation. Of course, real outdoor experiences are irreplaceable, but the benefit of this study can be useful, for example, if you’re currently ill or for any other reason can’t go out into the actual natural environment. [9–10]

A great way to support your mental health can also be meditation. You can learn more about it in the article Meditation: A Way to Find Inner Peace, Improve Concentration and Sleep, or Reduce Stress.

6. Sense of Belonging in the Community

The desire to belong somewhere is a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which represents fundamental human needs. It’s entirely natural for us, and it’s through this sense of belonging that we maintain relationships with those around us. This includes family, friends, or a partner, giving us a sense of togetherness. We want to love and be loved, but we also want to belong to a community where we feel comfortable, share common interests, and gain a sense of security. Physical activity in nature can help with this. Signs of togetherness are often simple, and you can see them, for example, when runners greet each other as they pass in the park. Often, at the very least, they exchange a few words.

The same applies to hiking enthusiasts, who are accustomed to greeting or talking to each other. Together, they create one large community where the sense of togetherness is ever-present. If you want to enhance this feeling even further, you can join group hikes or venture into nature with your friends, family, or acquaintances. Running, walking, cycling, mushroom picking, or various other similar activities fit well into this community mosaic. In case you can’t convince anyone you know to join you, you can use various hiking apps or social media groups where, in addition to tips for outdoor adventures, you’ll meet new people. [11]

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7. Memory Improvement

Nature combined with physical activity has an undeniable positive impact on our inner selves. One study, for example, suggests that time spent in nature is associated with a positive impact on affective and cognitive functions, while excessive use of technology and time in the city is associated with the depletion of cognitive resources. And, this does not concern just mental health or mood enhancement but also memory.

This finding comes from a study published in Sage Journals, which examined the memory performance of students divided into two groups. Both groups took memory tests. Afterwards, the first group went for a 3-kilometre walk in a natural botanical garden, while the second group covered the same distance but in an urban environment. After the walks, the students underwent memory tests again, and the group that took a walk in nature achieved significantly better memory results. [12][16]

Moreover, nature has provided us with many different nootropics for improving cognitive functions. You can find an overview of them in the article Nootropics: Substances for Improving Concentration and Memory. Which Are the Best Ones?

Spending time in in nature promotes memory improvement

8. Longer Engagement in Physical Activity Compared to Gym

When you decide to exercise in an enclosed environment, your attention is often solely focused on the training itself. Physical exertion can seem more demanding because you fully perceive every moment of effort, movement, and exercise. However, outdoor training is more forgiving in this regard, and people who opt for physical activity outdoors tend to exercise longer. This is because they perceive a lower level of exertion, as the beauty of the natural surroundings distracts them. In practice, this might look like going for a longer walk during which you’ll be admiring the environment.

Beautiful views, trees, leaves, or green spaces can lead to a situation where, by the end of the walk, you may not even realize that instead of the planned 20-minute walk, you’ve covered a slightly longer route, and it all went by quite quickly. This theory is supported by a study in which participants were required to walk outdoors and then reproduce the same activity with the same intensity indoors. It was found that people walking outdoors tended to walk faster, increasing the intensity of their exercise because they perceived it as less demanding compared to those walking indoors. [13]

If this benefit caught your attention, you can choose from various outdoor training options. A great example is traditional running, but you can also try hill running or longer-distance running. Ideal places include parks or street workout areas where you can do push-ups, pull-ups, dips, or planks. You can find more inspiration in the article Outdoor Training – Why and How to Start Exercising Outside.

9. Better Commitment to Exercise

You likely know someone in your circle who starts exercising right after the New Year’s Eve, and their enthusiasm lasts for only a few weeks at most. This is a good example of how making the first step isn’t that difficult, and maintaining your training routine is much harder, requiring motivation and the ability called self-discipline. In this case, too, exercising or engaging in physical activity in nature can help foster a passion for exercise.

Evidence for this claim comes from a clinical study conducted in 2015 that examined the differences between traditional indoor training and outdoor exercise. Participants trained for 12 weeks and were divided into two groups. The first group exercised indoors, and the second group exercised outdoors. The results showed that outdoor training increased the participants’ commitment to physical activity, which they adhered to much better than the second group, who trained indoors. Outdoor activity can be a good starting point if you’re beginning to exercise and want to stick with it for as long as possible. [17]

In nature, people tend to be active longer than in the gym

10. The Opportunity to Enjoy All These Benefits for Free

Nowadays, you have to pay for more or less any benefit that comes your way. You pay extra for a parking space near your flat, you buy a more advantageous gym membership, and so on. While working with a personal trainer has many advantages, it works best when combined with outdoor training. The great thing is that this activity costs you absolutely nothing. It can save you a bunch of money, especially if your training includes various cardio activities like running or cycling, which you usually do on machines. You can easily reserve two training days a week to swap the gym for a run in the park or a ride on a regular bicycle somewhere in the area. This way, you can enjoy all the benefits mentioned above and save several gym entrance fees each month.


Physical activity in the outdoors (green exercise) can be a fantastic way to support your training routine or simply reap the benefits of the surrounding nature. Especially when you voluntarily deprive yourself of it by spending most of your time indoors and mainly exercising in the gym or fitness centres. If you add at least a 17-minute walk in nature to your daily routine, you can support your mental health, reduce stress, and lower your blood pressure. Additionally, it’s an excellent way to reconnect with nature and find your place in a community of friendly people who often like to greet each other or exchange a few words. The best part is that you can enjoy the benefits of nature completely free of charge.

What outdoor sports activities do you enjoy the most?


[1] Holly Tiret - Green exercise can improve physical and mental health – https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/green_exercise_can_improve_physical_and_mental_healt

[2] Shirley Eichenberger-Archer - Green Exercise: How It Benefits You – https://www.ideafit.com/personal-training/green-exercise-how-it-benefits-your-clients/

[3] Giovanna Calogiuri, Katinka Evensen, Andi Weydahl, Kim Andersson, Grete Patil, Camilla Ihlebæk, Ruth K Raanaas - Green exercise as a workplace intervention to reduce job stress. Results from a pilot study – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26684708/

[4] Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, James Grellier, Benedict W. Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara L. Warber, Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge & Lora E. Fleming - Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3

[5] Nariadenie Komisie (EÚ) č. 432/2012 zo 16. mája 2012 o povolení určitých zdravotných tvrdení o iných potravinách, ako sú tie, ktoré odkazujú na zníženie rizika ochorenia a na vývoj a zdravie detí Text s významom pre EHP – https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/SK/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32012R0432

[6] National Institutes of Health - Vitamin D – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

[7] Junia N. de Brito a, Zachary C. Pope a, Nathan R. Mitchell a, Ingrid E. Schneider b, Jean M. Larson c, Teresa H. Horton d, Mark A. Pereira - The effect of green walking on heart rate variability: A pilot crossover study – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935120303017

[8] New Technologies for the Management and Rehabilitation of Chronic Diseases and Conditions – https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/403012/

[9] How connecting with nature benefits our mental health – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/MHAW21-Nature-research-report.pdf

[10] Watching nature on TV can boost wellbeing – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201013190803.htm

[11] Saul Mcleod - Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs – https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[12] Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan - The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature – ​​https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x

[13] MOTHER NATURE KNOWS BEST – THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING GREEN EXERCISE – https://terraform-20180423174453746800000001.s3.amazonaws.com/attachments/ck5ihpgwt24scv2m8e3u6yx6o-pdf-green-exercise-updated-hhwfcfen0620.pdf

[14] Angel Bauer, Nicole D White - Time in Nature: A Prescription for the Prevention or Management of Hypertension – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37426730/

[15] Marcia P. Jimenez, Nicole V. DeVille, Elise G. Elliott, Jessica E. Schiff, Grete E. Wilt, Jaime E. Hart - Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence – https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/9/4790

[16] Emily E. Scott, Kaedyn W. Crabtree, Amy S. McDonnell, Sara B. LoTemplio, Glen D. McNay, David L. Strayer - Measuring affect and complex working memory in natural and urban environments – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1039334/full

[17] Marianne Lacharité-Lemieux, Jean-Pierre Brunelle, Isabelle J Dionne - Adherence to exercise and affective responses: comparison between outdoor and indoor training – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25423324/

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