Strengthening the Forces: What is Green Exercise?

April 4, 2022 -  Defence Stories


Exercising outside allows you to “double down” on your benefits.

Q: Out of habit, I used to do most of my workouts in a gym but when these facilities closed during the pandemic I was forced to train outside. To my surprise, I preferred exercising outside compared to my previous gym routine. However, I would like to know if there are any “added” benefits to exercising outside compared with indoors? -- Claude

A: Dear Claude: Congratulations on discovering the joys of outdoor physical activity. “Green exercise” does not refer to doing operational training in a CADPAT uniform. It actually refers to exercising in the great outdoors (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website) and it has become quite popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like yourself, many people find green exercise a welcome change from training indoors. The good news is, green exercise is not only enjoyable but also offers many benefits above those you get from exercising indoors. These benefits include:

  1. Sensory stimulation - staring at a blank wall while walking on a treadmill gets old very quickly. On the other hand, doing the same walk in the forest offers an enormous amount of sensory stimulation including the smell of fresh air, the feel of ground underneath your feet, hearing the rustling of leaves, watching squirrels gather nuts and listening to the sound of birds.
  2. Saving time and money - walking out your door to exercise not only saves you time but it also saves you money on gas, wear and tear on your car, parking fees, gym memberships, etc.
  3. Easy access and convenience – you can exercise outdoors pretty much anytime and anywhere you want, as long as you pay attention to extreme weather conditions (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website) and take the necessary safety precautions. 
  4. Safety - while we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, exercising outside remains the safest option, when compared to working out inside a gym.
  5. Mental health benefits - exercising outside has been shown to help with things such as self-esteem, mood, anxiety, tension and anger. The remarkable thing is that these benefits are most pronounced in the first 5 minutes of green exercise [PDF - 210KB] (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website). 
  6. Vitamin D - is important to your health, especially your bone health. Your body produces more Vitamin D when it is regularly exposed to sunshine.
  7. Greater caloric burn - you burn more calories when you exercise outside. Wind resistance, hills, uneven surfaces and thermoregulation (hot or cold) all place extra demands on the body.
  8. Staying connected - exercising outside can improve your social life – especially during the pandemic. Meeting other people and keeping up on what is going on in your community will help you feel more connected and still allow you to maintain public health measures.
  9. Providing inspiration – some people will be inspired to become more active, seeing you exercising outside.
  10. Better workout (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website) - Research has shown that when people walk outside they tend to walk further andfaster and feel they are working less intensely than those who exercise inside.

The bottom line: exercising outside allows you to “double down” on your benefits. Not only do you get the multitude of health and wellness benefits that come from exercising but you also reap the many rewards that come from enjoying Mother Nature.  So the next time you think about going for a treadmill run in your basement, why not jog around the neighbourhood instead? You just might have a lot more fun. 

Dr. Darrell Menard OMM MD, Dip Sport Med

Dr. Menard is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports. As part of the Strengthening the Forces team he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.

Page details

Date modified: