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Exercising Alfresco

In "The Producers", the riotous Mel Brooks movie classic from 1968, the wily and almost washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock (played famously by Zero Mostel) takes timid accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) to lunch. Bialystock steers Bloom to a hotdog vendor's run-down sidewalk stand just outside an entrance to New York City's Central Park. "We're dining alfresco" Bialystock pompously intones, sardonically tracing a big, broad semicircle with his hotdog to symbolically include all the glories of being outdoors.

Of course, "alfresco" means out-of-doors or in the open air. In Italian, "fresco" means cool or fresh. Dining in the open air is often much more fun than having a meal indoors. The same may be said for exercise - whenever you have a choice, exercising "alfresco" is often much more enjoyable. Exercising outdoors is more rewarding for many people and also provides a wide range of unexpected benefits.

According to Federal agencies, the average American spends about 90% of her time indoors. Coupled with this assessment is the fact that three-quarters of Americans and one billion people worldwide have deficiencies in Vitamin D, a prime life-supporting and health-enhancing nutrient. Exercising outdoors for 30 minutes several times per week will assist your body in manufacturing more sufficient quantities of this important vitamin.

Additionally, spending time outside helps improve both physical and mental health. Regular exercise is associated with helping to prevent numerous health disorders, including obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, hip fracture, high blood pressure,1 cardiovascular conditions, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.2

Sunlight tends to improve a person's mood, so being outdoors is a natural boost to one's frame of mind. Adding exercise to the mix naturally enhances this psychologically elevated state. Since 2005 researchers at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom have focused on the benefits of "green exercise". In one study, participants engaging in a green outdoor walk described improvements in self-esteem, overall mood, and vigor. Confusion, fatigue, anger, and tension were all substantially reduced.3

Even viewing green and rural environments reduced blood pressure measurements by almost 9% in 100 treadmillers compared to those viewing blank screens or viewing urban images. If viewing green spaces is beneficial, actually being out-of-doors is likely to provide even greater benefit.

The bottom line? Being outdoors will enhance the value of most exercise activities. Green exercise will often impact a person's life in ways unlooked-for and by means unexpected.

1Martins RA, et al: Effects of aerobic and strength-based training on metabolic health indicators in older adults. Lipids Health Dis 9(1):76, 2010 [Epub ahead of print]
2Donges CE, et al: Effects of resistance or aerobic exercise training on interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc 42(2):304-313, 2010
3Barton J, Pretty J. Urban ecology and human health and well-being. In Gaston K, et al. (eds): Urban Ecology. British Ecological Society and Cambridge University Press, 2010
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