Healthy Parks, Healthy People: Why outdoor exercise really is better for you

Ontario has had one of the coldest winters on record with ridiculous amounts of snow and frigid temperatures so getting outside to exercise has been a challenge for most of us. Still, if we could only push ourselves to get outside and move … feel the sun shining on our skin, the breeze blowing through our hair, the sights and sounds of nature guiding us, we would actually start to feel better. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

A multitude of recent studies from around the world show that exercising outdoors is like winning the health lottery. We simply feel better “taking it outside.” So the next time you’re tempted to walk or jog on the old treadmill, think twice and maybe head outdoors. You will really feel better for it!

Physical benefits of outdoor exercise

  • Exercise in nature has a more positive effective on blood pressure and mood than exercise in a gym
  • Contact with nature has been found to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, help mitigate disease, and reduce stress levels
  • Athletes who run outside on nature trails have reported less fatigue after a 20-minute run than they did following a run on an indoor track.
  • Walking outside has been proven to provide increase immunity, increased weight loss and fitness, reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, improved balance and coordination, reduced risk of osteoporosis

Mental benefits

  • Activities in a natural environment resulted in reduced negative emotions (e.g., anger, fatigue and sadness) as compared to similar activities in a human-made environment
  • A daily walk in nature can be as effective in treating mild cases of depression as taking an antidepressant
  • Runners reported lower levels of stress and depression when exercising in nature than when exercising in an urban setting
  • Hiking makes you happier. Nature walks help combat stress while booking mental well-being

Benefits for children

  • Children with ADHD who regularly play in green settings have milder symptoms than children who play in built outdoor and indoor settings
  • This ‘mental calming’ gained from time spent in nature — even for as little as 20 minutes — has been found to mitigate the effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Students who experience nature as part of the educational process have proven to be more engaged and enthusiastic in all areas of study. They score higher on tests in reading, writing, and math and have demonstrated better listening skills

Benefits for seniors

  • Having green space in your neighbourhood to walk, talk and socialize is associated with longevity. A survey of 3,000 elderly residents living in Tokyo was conducted about their health as well as their residential environments. Even after researchers accounted for the age, sex, marital status, socio-economic and health status of participants, having walkable streets and green spaces near to where they lived was associated with survival at five years. Those living in areas with more green space had lower rates of mortality overall (deaths from any cause), and lower rates of mortality due to circulatory disease in particular, amongst a population of 40 million.
  • Older adults who are physically active are almost 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those who are inactive

Make Healthy Parks, Healthy People your personal trainer!

Make Healthy Parks, Healthy People your personal trainer!

With so many lakes, rivers, hiking trails, canoe routes, cross-country skiing, skating and snowshoeing trails. Ontario Parks is the best outdoor gym going!

And remember, this year, Ontario Parks is proud to offer Ontarians and visitors to our wonderful parks the opportunity to learn more about the relationship between looking after nature and looking after ourselves and participate in some really cool outdoor activities.

Remember, the more we care for our green spaces and take advantage of the bounty of benefits they have to offer, the healthier, happier lives we and our families can lead.

Check out our website

Remember to check the Health Parks, Healthy People website from time to time as spring approaches for activities and initiatives happening near you. The site has links to our park locator, reservation page and other important information.

The Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative kicked off in Ontario in February with the launch of a new website, full of fun facts, things to do outdoors, park activities across the province and a countdown to the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Celebration on Friday, July 17, 2015.

Make 2015 your year to get moving outdoors and enjoy some of the many health benefits of drinking in the sights and sounds of nature at your favourite provincial park.