Put some spring in your step!

Spring is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. It’s not just Mother Nature that’s blooming and welcoming the warmer weather – we humans like to shed our winter clothes and do some deep spring cleaning, too.

That means not just going through our closet, but also getting back into shape after a long cold winter – made even more challenging this year with pandemic-related restrictions for public health and safety. Now with warmer weather, you can ditch the on-line yoga classes and optimize your physical and mental wellness with a healthy dose of outdoor exercise and sunshine.

Why focus on the outdoors? Exercise is good wherever you do it, but it turns out that being outdoors can turbocharge those health benefits. Studies have found that walking, running, or cycling outdoors can all lower cortisol and offer immediate improvements in well-being, mood, energy and relaxation[1]. The higher your stress levels and the more rigorous the exercise, the more immediate the benefits[2] – and here’s an unexpected side benefit: exercising in nature may actually reduce the perceived effort required to achieve higher levels of exercise intensity[3]. Since exercise is associated with a whole host of other health benefits including lowered blood pressure, enhanced cardiovascular fitness, weight loss[4], anything that makes it feel easier to reach and maintain your exercise goals is a win.

Stretching is an important part of any exercise routine. While many people think it’s something you do before exercise, stretching itself isn’t a warm-up – a few minutes of warm-up can prevent injuries from stretching. Yoga, tai chi, and other forms of gentle stretching are an excellent way to increase flexibility, decrease your risk of injury, improve your range of motion and enhance your performance[5]. 

A final benefit of outdoor exercise? You catch more of those warm spring rays of sunshine, which in turn can boost your Vitamin D3 levels. Up to 50% of Canadians are estimated to be Vitamin D deficient, due to lifestyle and environmental factors[6]. Vitamin D has been associated with a whole range of benefits:

  • Helps in the development and maintenance of bones and teeth.
  • Helps in the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus.
  • Calcium intake, when combined with sufficient Vitamin D, a healthy diet and regular exercise may reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Helps to build strong bones and teeth.
  • Helps (to) maintain/support immune function.
  • Helps with immune function.

Be careful to avoid burning – most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods just with their forearms, hands, or lower legs.[7]

So, this spring, embrace the outdoors and combine your exercise with all the benefits of our natural environment. Make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before making a new exercise plan – then get out there and soak up that spring sunshine!

[1] Gladwell et al. The great outdoors: how a green exercise

environment can benefit all. Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2013, 2:3

http://www.extremephysiolmed.com/content/2/1/3

[2] Wolf et al. Walking, hiking and running in parks: A multidisciplinary assessment of health and well-being benefits . Landscape and Urban Planning 120, 2014, 89–103

[3] Olafsdottir et al. Health Benefits of Walking in Nature: A Randomized Controlled Study Under Conditions of Real-Life Stress. Environment and Behavior 2020, Vol. 52(3) 248–

274

[4] Mikkelsen et al. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas 106, 2017, 48–56

[5] Mayo Clinic link. Stretching: Focus on Flexibility. 2020 [cited April 26th 2021]; Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

[6] Nair et al. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 118–126.

[7] National Health Service. How to get Vitamin D from sunlight. 2018 [cited April 26th 2021]; Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-get-vitamin-d-from-sunlight