hikeWhen the sun is bright and the air is cool and crisp, days practically beg for exercise: a long walk, an invigorating run, a bike ride on a new path. Yet when you’re in the depths of Winter and the snow is piled high, the rain is incessant (we’re in drizzly Portland, OR.), the temperatures have dropped or the wind is howling, staying warm and cozy indoors can certainly override your resolve to work out.

Now that we’re winding our way out of those short Winter days it is a great time to be reminded of the benefits of spending time on outdoor activities.

Outdoor activity reduces the risk of suffering from poor mental health by 50%. According to a University of Glasgow study published in Social Science Medicine exercising in forests and parks protects against “ill mental health” in a way that working out at the gym does not.

I use exercise as a great way to de-stress and regroup my thoughts. It is a lot harder to do this indoors where we’re surrounded by all the things we’re trying to get away from: computers, work, phones. When exercising outdoors I’m more likely to go further than I would on a treadmill because I’m enjoying my time and not focusing on the numbers on a machine.

You don’t have to be an intrepid explorer to soak up the benefits of walking outdoors. Even a small burst of exercise can improve both your self-esteem and your mood. If you can’t get to a natural area, hit the pavement, the fresh air alone will perk you up.