Research has shown that early-morning cardio in a fasted state can burn up to 20 percent more calories; however hitting the grass versus the treadmill provides a number of further benefits that may just surprise you. Fitting in some nature, or vitamin N, may just be the secret to unlocking a better mood, faster metabolism and stronger memory.
1. Beat belly fat
Research shows that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva than those who live in a concrete jungle.
A Japanese study found that a forest walk can render a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity (which would contribute to anxiety), a one percent decrease in blood pressure, and a five percent decrease in heart rate. The more you can get yourself into a green space, the better it is for your body composition — and sanity, for that matter.
2. Go green to beat the blues
Forget retail therapy, try nature therapy. I recently saw an anonymous quote posted on my Facebook page that said, “There’s no Wi-Fi in the forest, but I promise you will find a better connection,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Whether you’re having a bad day, or a tough year, seeking out an area with a lot of greenery has been shown to improve both mood and memory in depressed individuals.
In one Michigan study, participants exhibited significant increases in memory span and mood after walks in nature versus urban walks. This is perhaps why many people battle the cottage traffic every Friday night to spend a couple of days in the great outdoors before heading back into the city for another week in the grind.
If you don’t have a cottage escape, look up some local trails. It’s an inexpensive, instantly gratifying and calorie-free way to lift your mood.
3. Combat brain fog
If you’re drawing a blank with a project at work, a study from Scotland suggests getting outside for a walk in the park.
Researchers took volunteers through three areas: a historic shopping district with old buildings and light traffic, a park-like setting and a busy commercial district with heavy traffic while they wore portable EEGs on their heads to relay their brain waves.
While the participants were in the commercial area they produced brain wave patterns conducive with frustration versus the parkland that showed patterns similar to meditation.
Bottom line: If you can get out for your lunch and head to a park for 20 minutes you may find yourself more productive the rest of the day.
4. Help nurture creativity
Between our iPhones, laptops and tablets we’re continuously plugged in. However, spending time away from battery-operated devices and in nature has been linked to a 50 percent increase in creativity, something scientists refer to as attentional restoration theory.
Bottom line: If you’re heading into a green space this long weekend, be sure to leave yourself unplugged for optimal health benefits.
5. Sleep more soundly
If you find yourself doing everything right and still tossing and turning at night, head outdoors for a walk down your favourite nature trail.
Researchers found that forest walking improved actual sleep time, immobile minutes, self-rated depth of sleep and sleep quality. And for even better results, according to the study, you should aim to have this walk later in the day versus earlier.
Bottom line: With the longer summer days I recommend taking advantage of an after-dinner walk not just to influence your waistline, but also your bedtime.
6. Get green at home
If you live in the city and you can only escape on the weekends, there are many benefits to adding a little greenery around the house and the office. According to researchers at Kansas State University, adding plants to hospital rooms speeds recovery rates of surgical patients. Compared to patients in rooms without plants, patients in rooms with plants request less pain medication, have lower blood pressure, experience less stress, and are released from the hospital sooner.
Bottom line: Feeling stressed at work? Add a potted plant and you will find yourself feeling healthier and taking less time off to battle the seasonal cold.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.