Exercising creates health and spending time in nature boosts mental health, so combine the two into green exercise and what do you get? A phenomenally beneficial activity that further enhances the benefits of exercise, researchers at Coventry University have found.
To examine the impacts of green exercise on a group of children, scientists showed study subjects, who ranged in ages from nine to ten, a video of a forest scene while they completed a 15-minute cycling exercise. A control group completed the same exercise but did not watch a nature video.
Children who watched nature videos while exercising experienced lower blood pressure after completing the exercise than those who weren’t exposed to the nature images. Low blood pressure reduces the risk for health problems including cardiovascular disease. Lead study author Dr. Michael Duncan says:
“[High blood pressure] is a chronic health problem across the world, so given the results we’ve seen in our study it’s crucial that we continue to try to understand the role physical activity and—in particular—green exercise plays in blood pressure.”
The good news is that practicing green exercise is both easy and fun. You don’t need a video of forest scenery to enjoy the health benefits. Instead, try heading to the great outdoors.
1. Bicycle outside
To most closely replicate the study, try getting green exercise by bicycling outside. You might cruise around your neighborhood, or visit the Maricopa Association of Government’s interactive bike map. The map shows everything from roads with paved shoulders to those with bike lanes to full-fledged bike routes in an easy-to-understand, color-coded map.
Many people also use the Valley’s canal system, which features a wide, bikeable surface on either side, for green exercise. The canals are operated by Salt River Project. You can find a map here.
If those ideas don’t sound amenable to you, try visiting your local park. Most large parks have concrete paths winding through them. Some parks also feature manmade lakes, offering the opportunity for waterside cruising. They include Freestone Park in Gilbert, Phoenix’s Encanto Park, and Scottsdale’s Chaparral Park.
Also in Scottsdale, the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt offers a network of paved paths that traverse 11 miles along lakes and through parks and make a perfect spot for green exercise. Try this area if you like wide expanses of grass that have less of a desert feel.
2. Outdoor exercise classes
If you’d like a guided version of green exercise, try visiting one of the outdoor fitness classes across the Valley. These usually take place in fall through spring months, but some continue to be held during the summer.
Phoenix Adventure Boot camp provides outdoor workout opportunities for people of all fitness levels, from novice to experienced. Workouts change every day and typically include some type of aerobic exercise, weight training, or sports-related activity. The boot camps take place at Phoenix’s Dreamy Draw Mountain Preserve Park. This fee-based program runs for four weeks Monday through Friday, although a three-day per week program is also available.
Other green exercise options include free fitness classes on the lawn at Phoenix’s Biltmore Fashion Park. Yoga takes places at 10:30 a.m. Sunday mornings, Fun Fit strength training takes place at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 6 p.m. on Thursdays is a 5k run club.
Although some trails in the Valley are notoriously difficult, many other trails offer hiking opportunities for beginner and intermediate hikers and are suitable for those with chronic pain. Some paths, like those at the Desert Botanical Garden, are paved. The garden’s Desert Loop Discovery Trail offers exercisers beautiful views of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Papago Park in Phoenix also offers a variety of pain-friendly trails perfect for green exercise. The entire 1.2 mile West Park Accessible Trail is paved, and the first segment is level enough to be considered handicapped accessible. Another option is the quarter-mile Nature Trail that features interpretive signs with facts about Sonoran Desert animal and plant life.
4. Outdoor fitness courses
Who needs a gym for green exercise when you have outdoor fitness courses? Several parks in Phoenix and surrounding Valley cities offer stationary exercise equipment. Because the equipment is located in a park, those working out also have access to running trails and surrounding greenery.
Phoenix’s Cholla Cove Park features seven workout stations, each one complete with a sign that instructs visitors how to use the equipment. The fitness course is designed to build both flexibility and muscle strength. You’ll find a chin-up bar, sit-up bench, circular ladder, and hamstring stretch station.
Desert Horizon Park, also in Phoenix, is another option for green exercise with outdoor fitness courses. This park features eight fitness stations with many of the same options as Cholla Cove Park. In Scottsdale, visitors to Chaparral Park will find a ten-station exercise course.
Not every park features a tennis court, but many do. The good thing about tennis is that it’s relatively low impact and gives plenty of opportunities to rest, although you can amp it up as much as you’d like. Playing doubles tennis is another way to slow the game down a bit if you’re still getting into shape.
A list of tennis facilities in Phoenix can be found here. Options include Encanto Park and Roadrunner Park. Scottsdale features a Google map of all its tennis courts. Chandler’s Tumbleweed Park includes the Chandler Tennis Center. Kleinman Park in Mesa features tennis, as does the Gene Autry Tennis Center, which offers lessons and court rentals.
In Glendale, visit Bonsall Park, with tennis courts in addition to basketball and volleyball courts.
Arizona and water sports may not exactly be synonymous, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities to forsake dry land in the Grand Canyon State. Tempe Town Lake offers stand-up paddleboarding, which involves standing on a large board resembling a surfboard and using a special paddle to move.
The exercise is wonderful for building core strength and it is low impact. If you get tired, it’s possible to take a break and sit on the board until you’re ready to start moving again.
At Lake Pleasant, you’ll find guided hikes with a lake view, options for paddleboarding, and opportunities to rent kayaks.
What is your favorite way to get green exercise?
Image by Mackenzie Kosut via Flickr