You’d be convinced by the ‘experts’ today that you need a lot of equipment and a flashy gym to get fit. The truth is that you don’t. If you were to walk into any professional sports facility, you’d find that 90% of their work is squatting, deadlifting, pressing from the chest, pulling from the back, pulling the body up and pressing above the head. The basics work well and you don’t need flash. If your goal is to look, feel and perform well for life then you do not need to join a gym - period. The gym has become entrenched in western culture. Getting fat? Join the gym. New Year’s Resolution? Join the gym. What if there was an alternative to mirrors, lycra and disinfectant? Thanks to a changing paradigm, there is a movement away from the conventional gym industry. People are rebelling from the rat race to mother nature and the fitness industry is no different. There is a still a long way to go though. Let’s discuss some of the benefits of exercising in the great outdoors with a focus on hormones.
First off the bat, our old friend Vitamin D (it’s actually a hormone). The vast majority of us are severely deficient (1) and this is having a dramatic affect on our immunity and the risk of developing several diseases. Training outdoors as apposed to the gym enables us to ‘top up the tank’ of vitamin D. D3 is produced when chemicals in the skin are exposed to the sun’s rays (2). If you are a busy person, training outdoors can hit two birds with one stone - get fit and get vit. Unfortunately, we were mislead with whole ‘sun smart’ thing. Yes, we need to respect the sun but we should not fear it.
Melanoma skin cancer currently sits in at number 5 as the most common type of cancer (3), behind breast, prostate, lung and bowel but the top four account for over 50% of all new cases of cancer. There is growing evidence that a lack of vitamin D suppresses the immune system and this increases the risk of getting several cancers. I’m not asking you to forget about skin cancer because it is a threat but we need to take the microscope away and look at things in a broader context. Enjoy a daily dosage of sun exposure specific to your skin tone and, without being arrested, see if you can expose your whole body to some smart rays. Also, just a personal belief, I’m not a huge fan of sun screen. I believe that applying sunscreen makes us feel somewhat invincible against the sun when really, we are not. Of course, due to work or sport, it may be a necessity to slop and slap but I’d rather take cover before I’m going to burn. The chart below highlights the need for individuals to assess their own ‘safe time’ in the sun rather than following a general ‘one-fits-all’.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, plays an important role in keeping you alive. It’s behind your fight-flight response and in a time of life or death you can hope it kicks in so you survive. Unfortunately, a modern lifestyle of working a 9-5, traffic jams, artificial light and paying off a mortgage are leading to a chronic release of stress. Naturally our adrenaline levels should peak when we wake up and plummet when we sleep. Again, our vampire existence is playing havoc with our adrenal system. This is affecting everything from sleep, immunity, brain fog and even leading to the dangerous place of adrenal fatigue. This condition leaves you feeling chronically burnt out. Thankfully, exposure to the outdoors and particularly nature, we can reduce our levels of cortisol and de-stress our mind and body (4). If you want to avoid being a grumpy bugger, I’d highly suggest some stress releasing exercise combined with nature as the best preventative measure.
There are literally an endless list of benefits derived from training outdoors. Aside from the points mentioned above , there is also evidence linking movement outdoors with reducing depression (5), improving vision (6) and immunity (7). Personally I train with a KB and gymnastic rings in nature to improve my general health and fitness. It also helps me to prepare for the rigors of my sport, BJJ. My joints feel mobile, I have no pain, my relative and absolute strength are well balanced and my fat percentage is low. With the right knowledge, mindset and programming, there is no reason why one cannot train outdoors for life.
(4) Restorative effects of viewing real forest landscapes, based on a comparison with urban landscapes, Juyoung Lee , Bum-Jin Park , Yuko Tsunetsugu , Takahide Kagawa & Yoshifumi Miyazaki