The Greenest Of Exercise, But He’S Still Out Of Breath

Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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So I’m huffing up this hill, thinking how gravity ain’t nearly as reliable a thing as Isaac Newton assumed. I haven’t done the measurements, but I’m pretty certain the gravitational constant has increased slowly, but steadily in the past 50 years.

Either that or the cumulative erosion in the course of the decades I’ve been trundling up such inclines has made them all noticeably steeper.

I still toil up these steepened hills through the strengthening gravity happily enough, but I no longer skip, carry 50-pound packs or sing songs from musicals on the incline. I can’t tolerate a treadmill or a weight machine, but I’m darn near addicted to these morning jaunts with my dog Lobo bounding off into the underbrush — so long as they end at an overlook.

Still, it’s a comfort to know that I’m cutting edge when it comes to exercise.

Turns out, exercising in a beautiful place does you much more good than just sweating off the calories.

I ain’t making this up.

For instance, five minutes of working or exercising in a park, backyard garden or nature trail decreases the risk of mental illness and increases the sense of well-being, according to a study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The research involved 1,252 people in Great Britain and compared people who exercised in nature with people who either didn’t exercise at all or worked out in more drab settings. Even a five-minute dose of nature — especially near water — had a lasting impact on mood and mental health.

Well, that got me interested — seeing as how ever since my geeky youth I’ve aspired to be a trendsetter. So I went browsing on the Science Daily Web site — a wonderful compilation of scientific research summaries.

Came immediately upon a study of the impact on the body of wandering about in forests and other natural settings — this one conducted by Finnish researchers and presented at the World Forestry Congress in Seoul Korea.

Turns out, people recover from illness faster in natural settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the release of stress hormones all decrease in natural environments. Moreover, people suffering from depression, anger disorders and Attention Deficit Disorders all report reduced symptoms in natural settings.

This discovery led to another study — this one focusing on whether university students feel better when exposed to campus green spaces. This hit a nerve for me. After all, the current plan for the Payson university campus would make it probably the prettiest, most natural campus in the whole state — with a car-free core nestled in pine-covered hills.

So the study found that the more students studied in such “green spaces” the more happy and satisfied they reported themselves. The students who reported a lot of outdoor nature time scored higher on measures of self-esteem and lower levels of stress. The link proved much less clear among graduate students, curiously enough. The researchers from Texas A&M University speculated that this was because the undergraduates were mostly lonely singles while the graduate students were mostly married, which generally has a big positive impact on happiness.

One more study — then I’ll stop.

A long-term study in England tracked the happiness and mental health of 1,000 people for three years after they moved. Some moved from green, leafy areas to urban areas — while some moved in the opposite direction.

The people who moved from more rural areas to more urban areas suffered a drop in mental health and reported well-being — while people who moved to “greener” areas reported the opposite effect, according to the study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.

The researchers did their best to correct for other factors like income, employment and education so they could isolate the effect of the environment. Other studies have documented an immediate brightening in outlook when exposed to nature, but this study extended the documentation to at least three years.

Well, I’m sold. Should have put some of this stuff in our new relocation guide, which should hit the streets next month. Of course, I guess it’s no big surprise you’ll feel better about yourself and life on the planet upon a slab of limestone overlooking the East Verde River than in the morning traffic jam on the way to downtown Phoenix.

I oughta know: Spent about 25 years in Phoenix doing the traffic jam therapy before stumbling upon Payson and changing my morning routine.

I complete this thought just in time to fetch up upon the aforementioned promontory of 300-million-year-old limestone. I plop down on the edge of the rock. Lobo leaps from rock to rock to land lightly alongside. He surveys the scene, not breathing hard at all. A raven floats past overhead, croaking. I read somewhere that ravens lead hunters — and wolf packs — to their prey, knowing they’ll dine on the scraps. So responding helplessly to instinct, Lobo goes charging off through the woods after the laughing raven. Neither one of them sound out of breath.

This could pose a problem for my increasing gravitational constant theory. But I can’t deny the evidence: I’m out of breath despite the extravagantly green setting.

I scratch my graying hair, happy to be sitting still. It’s a mystery all right. Just can’t figure it out. Better do more research.

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