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Quick, picture a place where you feel calm and happy. A beach? The mountains?
Most people pick someplace outdoors, even though they spend the great majority of their days inside buildings. Many of them even exercise indoors!
But evidence is mounting that being outside, and especially exercising in a natural environment, improves mental and physical health, says Daphne Miller, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Many women get deconditioned during pregnancy,” explains Miller. “They need incentives to get off the couch—and people who exercise outdoors are more inclined to repeat the experience.” Open-air exercise may also help women who are struggling with prenatal depression or anxiety.
A review of 11 studies found that people who did their workouts in a natural setting felt happier and more energized than those who exercised indoors. Even brief sessions of “green” exercise are beneficial, especially when the natural area includes water, such as creeks or ponds.
But why is a walk in the park such good medicine? One contributor is a healthier atmosphere: Outdoor air usually contains about half the pollutants of indoor air. Another is the vitamin boost from sun exposure. Research indicates that the vitamin D our bodies make when skin is exposed to sun has a more lasting effect than what we get from food and supplements.