The health benefits of green exercise

Why you should work out in the great outdoors

Happy senior couple jogging in the park.


Walking, running or cycling are all great forms of exercise, and there's evidence to suggest that working out in a natural setting is good for your mental health too. Now that the warmer weather has arrived, here are three different outdoor activities to try.

See also: Wonderful spots for wild swimming in the UK

See also: Walking burns more calories than previously believed

The evidence

Researchers at the University of Essex looked at 10 existing studies on the effects of exercising in nature and found a strong positive association with improved well-being. Evidence from 1,250 study participants showed that most people experienced vast improvements in mood and self-esteem after exercising in the great outdoors.

Another study by the same team examined whether the length of exposure to natural settings influenced the benefit gained. It found that the more time participants spent doing green exercise, the greater the benefits. In addition, exercising in or near to water was found to increase the benefit further still.

Don't worry if you can't exercise outside every day. The study authors concluded that even brief spells of green exercise led to improvements in mental health.

Running wild

Britain has an extensive network of bridleways and footpaths – and there are a growing number of local walking groups offering the chance to explore the natural environment at an easy pace, often during the day and midweek to suit retired people.

The Ramblers Association organise walks for different age groups – so you can choose to join ones specially for the over 50s – and operate in most parts of the UK. Visit www.ramblers.org.uk to find your nearest group.

If you're fit enough, a jog through the woods or by a river or the sea can be a great way to workout. There are also lots of outdoor bootcamp sessions around the country (some more military style than others) which will give you a more challenging workout

Parkrun is a series of 5k runs held on Saturday mornings in areas of open space around the UK – far more enjoyable than jogging along the dual carriageway! As well as benefiting from the pleasure of other people's company, it will give you the motivation of a set time and date to run. To find your nearest Parkrun event, visit: www.parkrun.org.uk.

Cycling on the open road

A survey carried out in 2016 by Cycling UK and OpenMTB found that 65 per cent of respondents considered cycling off-road to be "very important" in maintaining their mental health.

If you cycle on the road, head out on the country lanes and through the woods. If you're not confident about route finding, seek out a local cycle club and join an organised ride. To find routes and your nearest club, visit www.britishcycling.org.uk.

Depending on where you live, you may also have easy access to shared-use paths beside Britain's extensive canal network or on former railway lines. Both have the benefit of being largely flat, and so are perfect for cyclists who might not be in the best shape.

Wild Swimming

On a hot summer day, what could be more refreshing than slipping into the cool waters of a secluded lake or braving the ice-tingling rush of a woodland waterfall?

You may not be lucky enough to have an outdoor pool nearby, but there are places where you can swim for free, in lakes, rivers or the sea. It's an all-round workout that won't put stress on the joints, so it suitable for all fitness levels.

According to the Environment Agency, who began a clean-up operation back in the seventies, Britain's rivers, lakes, waterfalls and beaches are cleaner, safer and more accessible than ever before.

Safety must always be a top priority, especially if swimming with children, so do your research and check tide times and water quality before you jump in. Visit www.wildswimming.co.uk to check the quality of water ways in your area and discover the best swimming locations.