Going green – the benefits of exercising outdoors

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist and conservationist


tepping outside into the warmth of a spring day is one of my favourite moments of the year. After a long, cold winter, those first few bursts of spring

seem to rejuvenate my weather-worn soul and I feel re- born. That mental health reboot is just one of the many benefits the great outdoors has to offer, and believe it or not, our ancestors have something to do with it. When I was growing up, my grandmother was convinced that the great outdoors cured just about everything. If I was feeling sad, tired or lonely, her ad- vice was always the same: “Go outside for a walk, dear and clear your head.” As it turns out, that advice wasn’t far from the mark. There has been a growing field of research over the last 30 years on the inter-

Krystal Stokes Healthy Living

connectedness between human health and nature, with a focus on “green exercise”. Green exercise is simply physi- cal activity that takes place in a natural setting or “green space”. For example, going for a bike ride along a nature trail or a leisurely walk through a neighbourhood park would both classify as green exercise. Of course, any form of exercise can be good for you, but what makes the “green” in exercise so beneficial? To begin with, researchers theorize that humans have an in- nate affiliation with nature because we were shaped in part by our evolutionary environment. Simply put, our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and fed off the land in a natural setting for thousands of years and that has left an imprint on our DNA. A 2013 systematic research review on green exercise

from the Journal of Extreme Physiology and Medicine affirmed that, “the great outdoors has been a crucial part of human evolution, and it’s likely this reaches into

After a long cold winter, the great outdoors offer welcome redemption.

modern attitudes towards nature, both conscious and unconscious.” Most people today live in urban settings surrounded by concrete, limiting contact with the restor- ative properties of nature. Driving in traffic on a noisy street stands in stark contrast to the way our ancestors lived in close proximity to nature. So if you’re walking along a wilderness trail this summer feeling happily at one with nature, take a moment to thank your ancestors! Exercising outdoors can also be motivational, especial- ly if your workout routine is feeling a little monotonous. Going green may be a great way to change things up. The 2013 Journal article also showed that green exercise motivates people to be physically active by “increasing enjoyment and escapism from everyday life.” Add in some sunlight and a little vitamin D and you’ll find your mood improving with each step you take. Furthermore, the article confirmed that exercise will actually feel easier when performed in a natural setting. “Green exercise reduces perceived effort and allows in- dividuals to work at higher intensity.” For example, if you’re jogging along a park trail, the pleasant environ- ment can distract from the task at hand, allowing you to jog longer or faster. I personally find running outdoors far preferable to indoors – I loathe treadmills but find running outside quite exhilarating. The mental health benefits of the great outdoors are abundant and worth noting. In a Psychology Today article, psychologist Dr. Alan Fogel points out several advantages to green exercise: “It makes people happier,

Natural solutions for hypertension

Don’t discount a healthy diet and one supported by supplements, exercise and contemplation in dealing with your high blood pressure

disease, heart attack, and stroke. It affects about one billion people worldwide and results in over seven million deaths per year. Al- most half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure.


The traditional medi- cal approach to reducing blood pressure is to rec- ommend lifestyle modifi- cations including exercise, weight loss (if required), healthier food choices like the DASH diet (dietary ap- proaches to stop hyperten- sion), restricting salt intake and prescribing a suite of drugs, which may include ACE (angiotensin convert- ing enzyme) inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics – sometimes called the ABCDs. Unfor- tunately, these drugs can produce adverse effects, including insomnia, headaches, impotence, kidney failure, weight gain, joint disorders, diarrhea, weakness, and low energy among many others. Because of these serious and disruptive side ef- fects, many patients don't take these drugs as prescribed. A blood pressure reading is given in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg), with two numbers. The upper number indi- cates the arterial pressure when the heart beats (the systolic phase); and the lower number when the heart is at rest, between beats (the diastolic phase, when the heart fills with blood and absorbs oxygen). A good, healthy blood pressure reading is


ypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) is a ma- jor risk factor for cardiovascular

below 120/80 mm Hg. Ideally, the dia- stolic blood pressure reading should be lower than 80; a reading between 80 and 89 is often considered nor- mal, but it's not optimal, and an

elevated diastolic

level can lead to a higher systolic level. Last week I

received a

Nathan Zassman Natural Health

call from a woman who was seeking a natural approach to help lower her blood pressure. Jane (not her real name) is 55, and until re- cently had no health prob- lems. But in the previous two weeks, she had been hospitalized twice for a very rapid pulse and had a sys- tolic blood pressure reading of 196. While in the hospi-

tal, she had a chest x-ray and a thorough checkup, including blood work. Other than an elevated diastolic blood pressure reading over 90, everything seemed nor- mal. The medical term for this condition is "isolated diastolic hypertension". The holistic approach to any health con- cern starts with trying to find the cause, rather than dealing with the symptoms. I learned that Jane has a very healthy life- style. She's active, doesn't smoke or drink, isn't overweight, and drinks about four cups of coffee per week. Her diet is fo- cused on plant foods and lean meats and is better than most of the clients that come to see me. She also has a lovely, warm, en- gaging personality, and made it clear that she was eager to try my approach. During our meeting, we discussed the importance of boosting nitric oxide (NO) levels, as NO is the most impor- tant molecule for reducing blood pressure

and increasing blood flow. Our bodies require the enzyme eNOS to produce nitric oxide, but it decreases significantly after the age of 40. This enzyme is criti- cal for the production of NO by the en- dothelium (the lining of our arteries and blood vessels). I recommended a supple- ment clinically proven to increase nitric oxide production, along with a concen- trated super green juice powder that in- cludes probiotics, mushroom extracts, micro-algae, vegetables, and fruits. I also suggested a powdered blend of different types of magnesium, aged garlic capsules, beet juice, curcumin, olive leaf complex, black seed oil, omega-3, a comprehensive multivitamin, and two strong cups of hi- biscus tea per day. Two published studies found that hibiscus tea and olive leaf ex- tract were as effective as the commonly- prescribed ACE inhibitor drug captopril. As my approach is to provide solid re-

search to support my recommendations, I gave Jane a selection of well-referenced studies on a variety of complementary di- etary supplements including Pycnogenol, coenzyme Q10, black sesame seeds, and grape seed extract. I stressed the importance of fasting for

two non-consecutive days each week, and suggested that she spend quiet time med- itating each day, as mindfulness medita- tion has been shown to help reduce blood pressure. I also gave her a three-minute exercise routine to do three times a day specifically designed to help the body in- crease nitric oxide levels. A few days later, Jane emailed me to

update me on her "exciting progress." She had implemented many of my rec- ommendations and was eating lots of healthy salads, seeds, bananas, and pa- payas and had joined the website Blood- to help keep an accurate log of her readings. Before she embarked on my program, her blood pressure was 155/88 (as measured by her doctor). That dropped to 132/80 during her next visit less than two weeks later. She suspects that this doctor's reading may have been elevated due to "white coat syndrome", as the reading she took at home was a healthy 121/67. A half an hour after drinking some fenugreek tea with some ground ginger, she found her next read- ing to be a remarkable 105/71 with a 72 pulse. Jane is now sleeping better, and her self-measured diastolic readings are con- sistently under 80, while her systolic read- ings are usually under 120. Normally, I tell clients that they shouldn't expect rapid results when us- ing natural approaches that include diet, supplementation, and exercise. I've found it can often take up to three months for people to see significant changes. But it's also not uncommon to see quick improve- ments, particularly for relatively healthy people like Jane who are committed and dedicated to pursuing optimum health. One of the best reasons to work contin- ually on living a healthy lifestyle is that it can make performing the activities of dai- ly life easier, providing us with more time to do the things we love. Making lifestyle changes requires more of a commitment than taking pharmaceutical drugs, but the health benefits can be amazing, es- pecially when you consider the potential adverse effects of drugs. Making healthier food choices, taking supplements, fasting, meditating, and getting more exercise can not only help manage blood pressure, but bring a host of other benefits like in- creased energy, better sleep, and a longer life.

April 2018

less fatigued and angry, more tranquil and relaxed, and bestows a more lasting energy boost compared to indoor exercise.” And even five minutes of green exercise (like walking across a beautiful campus or downtown park) can improve self-esteem and mood. Research has found the more connected you are to nature, the more life sat- isfaction you will have. Dr. Fogel explains: “Restorative environments have been shown to bring us more in touch with ourselves and remind us what is important in our lives.” The restorative power of nature is an integral part of human history and some of the earliest hospitals in me- dieval Europe were in monasteries with beautiful gar- dens. Research has shown that even looking out a hos- pital window into a natural setting rather than a brick wall had a positive effect on patient recovery. The Vic Miracle Garden, located at the Victoria General Hospi- tal in South Winnipeg, opened in 2014 with the same principles in mind. The space was designed to nurture physical, mental and spiritual health through the sights and sounds of nature. I’ve sat down and eaten my lunch there on a warm spring day and I can attest to the seren- ity it brings. Ultimately, anyone can benefit from a green environ- ment, and what better time to explore the power of na- ture than the first bloom of spring? Krystal Stokes is a communications officer with Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Victoria General Hospi- tal Foundation.

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