Fitness in the forest: how outdoor exercise can benefit you

Looking for a natural boost to energize your workout routine? Look no further than nature, says Zain Saraswati Jamal.

We all know that exercise is one of the most powerful forms of preventative healing accessible to us. What if we could increase its potency to an even greater degree?

Well, we can! By taking our exercise outdoors into the fresh air and combining it with the majesty and restorative energies of nature, we can invigorate and rejuvenate our bodies, minds and spirits in an unparalleled way.

Studies have shown that outdoor exercise boosts self-confidence, nourishes and purifies the body with fresh oxygen, and elevates mood with exposure to vitamin D. It also strengthens the body’s stabilizing muscles as it finds ways to adapt to uneven terrain, requires more energy and in turn burns more calories, and heightens our overall sense of wellbeing. On top of all that, it is a great way to spend time with a friend or two if you wish to train together!

When compared to indoor training in a controlled environment, it has been shown that those who train outdoors often exercise for longer periods of time due to the visual distraction of the scenery. Exercising outdoors is often more enjoyable and enriching on an energetic level as it connects us to the world around us, offering the chance to harmonize and re-calibrate our natural rhythms.

Running a 5km

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Running outdoors is considered by many to be a meditative experience as it offers us time to process our thoughts and inspires us to naturally create a patterned breath. Running works all major muscle groups in the body including the deep muscles of the core and it is accessible to almost everyone. It does not require a special skill and it is a form of exercise that we can do at our own pace, increasing time/speed as we become stronger.

To get started, find a route either on grass, sand, in the forest, on a seawall or another inspiring landscape of your choice. Start by running for three minutes and walking for one minute, three times per week until you reach the 5km mark. The following week, run for four minutes and walk for one, the week after run for five minutes and walk for one and continue this way until you are running for 15 minutes and walking for one minute. At this point, you may choose to eliminate your walking or reduce the one-minute down to 30 seconds. Adjust your run time and rest according to how your body feels and you will continue to build the strength to run to your goal. If there is a charity race in your community, registering for it may give you a time-sensitive goal to work with that will help to keep your motivation high!

Swimming 1.6km (1 mile)

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The warm summer months offer us the ideal opportunity to swim. Swimming is considered to be one of the best forms of cardio exercise, as our hearts must work harder to pump blood throughout our bodies when submerged in water. This incredible exercise also reduces blood pressure and works all major muscles of the body including the core.

Whether visiting an outdoor pool, a lake or the ocean, you can work towards your goal of swimming a mile. Rather than timing your swim, create a distance goal.

If you are swimming in a pool, start with 4 laps and then gradually build your way up. You can swim the first 3 laps at a moderate pace and the last lap at a faster speed. Continue to add laps each week until you are able to swim to your goal.

If you are swimming in a lake or in the ocean, you must take into account the current. Set a distance goal with lap markers yet in this case, begin with 2 laps and work your way up from there. Note that ocean swimming can provide great healing benefits as the salt water is rich with magnesium and thus restores the body and helps to repair muscle tissue.

Once you achieve your distance goal, you can then work on increasing your speed.

Hiking 10km

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Depending upon where you live in the world, mountain and trail hiking is one of the best anabolic exercises you can do outdoors on your own or with your family. It not only works all of your muscle groups (including your tendons, ligaments, core and the deep muscles supporting your spine), but also simultaneously builds your lung capacity and endurance while offering a peaceful, meditative mental cleansing. Hiking invigorates the senses and gives you the opportunity to explore your surroundings and wildlife in your area.

You may choose a hike that suits your ability and fitness level starting with a basic hike and then gradually selecting terrain that is steeper or more challenging. The key to hiking is finding appropriate footwear (comfortable hiking boots), hiking poles if you feel you require additional support, and being sure to pack snacks such as raw nuts, fruits, veggies and plenty of water to fuel your energy, especially if you are hiking for over an hour. Hiking in the wild is challenging as much as it is exciting, so it is highly advisable to equip yourself with knowledge as well. Courses in life-saving skills may prove to be vital in case of emergencies when there’s no immediate medical assistance. By getting an online certification on, you’ll be able to react in due time and save a life should it come to it.

For beginners who are unsure of their ability, it may help to find a steep hill and walk up and down 5­–7 times, placing your whole foot to the surface in order to engage your stabilizing muscles. If you feel comfortable with this then locate a 2–3km hike and work your way up in distance from there. Take breaks frequently at first and then try to do the shorter hikes with one break at the halfway point.


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Taking our yoga practice outdoors, either on the grass or earth, gives us the opportunity to connect with nature and draw grounding energy into our bodies. As we breathe, we have the chance to explore and celebrate the unity between our humanity and all living things providing a deep sense of peace and serenity as we move our bodies.

Find a quiet, level spot of grass or earth and lay your mat upon this surface. You may wish to choose a place with a view or somewhere you feel is special to you.

You may choose to take a few breaths in a seated meditation before beginning your practice.

Working out in nature, with nature, is an amazing way to optimize your health, balance, and longevity – physically, mentally and spiritually. The benefits of outdoor exercise can heal and transform your body and physique as well as boost your vitality and energy. It is a way for you to re-connect with yourself and with your surroundings and is one of the most powerful ways to celebrate your human experience.

Read more from Zain Saraswati Jamal at her website