The value of exercising outdoors

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was at my day job, doing stupid hours and working weekends. It was for a special six month project that I knew would challenge me at the outset, but financially would be a massive opportunity for me. The challenge wasn’t just the brain part of figuring out how to do the work, but in the time management of it too.

I was working in a city office that had a gym downstairs, so completely out of character, I joined in acknowledgement that for the next six month I was going to need to keep physically fit away from my beloved outdoors.

exercising outdoors
The feeling of exercising outdoors in the Kimberley, WA. [Photo: Tom Brennan]

My first gym experience

Instead of moving through nature for my physical and mental health, with a smorgasbord of visual and audio delights, allowing my mind to wander (+wonder) and amble at a gentle pace, embraced by all things green, my exercise blinkers went on. I moved and sweated under fluorescent lights, staring at a TV screen on the treadmill or doing the ‘eye dance’ to avoid looking at the mirror or realising I was inadvertently staring at other people in the gym. Awks.

Whilst the routine of swiping in and out at the gym, squeezing a visit in after finishing work at 9pm kept me exercising and (sort of) maintaining my bushwalking fitness (ever tried wearing a full pack on the treadmill?), something else that I noticed during that time was that my mood and mental focus was not what it had been. This, at a time, when my professional life demanded clear thinking, balanced analytical skills and the ability to deal with high levels of stress.

I kept telling myself, ‘At least when I do get back to the bush after this project I’ll still be fit.’

Relying on stimulants

I found myself starting to rely on coffee to wake up (and not just in the morning), wine to go to sleep and sugar hits throughout the day, whenever the spreadsheets started to swim in front of my eyes.

exercising outdoors
Sure, climbing up a massive hill can be a killer at the time, but exercise contributes to overall mental alertness, improved mood and better sleep!

Outdoor exercise and mental alertness

What the experience really showed me, was that even though I knew how closely mental health and mood was connected to exercising and spending time outdoors and in nature, I had no clue that it’s also closely aligned to mental alertness and the ability to focus on particular tasks.

Sure, everyone feels tired at one time or another, but the irony of moving our body (it would be easy to think that it should make us feel more tired), is that it can actually make us feel more alert, more focussed and help us sleep better when we plug-in to our doonas to recharge at night.

On reflection and a serious lesson learnt, is that it would’ve been much better for me to get up an hour earlier in the morning, walk to the local pool and do a few laps. Even if it was just for 15 minutes, the rhythmic movement and focus on breathing, can help bring calm and drown out stressful thoughts.

How tired are you?

If you’re wondering just how tired you are or how much you’re not on your A-game (not just for work, but being the best you can be for friends, family and importantly, you…) check out this quick energy quiz, where you can also chat with a health professional to help you get things back into balance.

This article is brought to you by Blackmores.

exercising outdoors

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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