It's Cold Outside, But Outdoor Exercise Is More Important Than Ever. Here's Why

Photo: Rob and Julia Campbell

The cold, short days of winter are hardly the optimum time to advocate making "getting outdoors" a priority in your 2018 wellness routine. But with anxiety and depression at an all-time high, it's just not something you can afford to miss out on. Plus, the immediate benefits of getting some fresh air far outweigh the excuses not to—and any time of year is the best time to begin. Once you start doing so, you’ll see what I mean.

You may say, "Sure, this is an easy agenda for a mountain-climbing guy to push; he’s already acclimated to some of the toughest outdoor conditions on the planet." And while it’s true that I’ve made a career of being in the outdoors, it wasn’t always this way. I grew up living indoors just fine. In fact, according to the original game plan, I should be tucked inside a hospital as a doctor right now. That was my parents' dream for me and, up until college, it was the course I had charted for myself. What changed all that? Getting outdoors, of course.

Before taking pre-med school courses at Georgetown University, each freshman was required to participate in an outdoor leadership program. At the time, it was being run by Chris Warner, one of America’s better-known mountaineers. I became obsessed with it, and I soon found myself outdoors throughout the course of my undergraduate journey, and I fell in love with it.

Being outdoors, successfully besting physical challenges and seeing a world beyond classroom lectures and book learning, gave me enthusiasm and a zest for living. I convinced my parents, and the Jesuits at Georgetown, to let me indulge in a gap year before taking on med school. I spent that time climbing mountains all over the world. I was addicted to the sun and air and the snow. So, when it came time to go back to school, and the university denied my request for an additional gap year, I had to decide whether I should follow my passion and the love of the outdoors or return indoors for years of intense study.

My parents had always supported being passionate about what you do, and I decided being outdoors and turning others on to the outdoors through my adventure guide service was what I wanted to do.

While I don’t expect you to drop everything and devote your life to climbing the world’s tallest peaks, I can say, with some authority, that building outdoor activities into your daily routine will do wonders for your overall physical and mental health. Here's why.

Photo: Rob and Julia Campbell

Fresh air gives you a fresh take on life.

There’s something about fresh air and being outdoors that stimulates your mind. Some of my best personal and professional "aha" moments have happened while clinging to the side of the mountain. In fact, one study out of Stanford even found that walking improves creativity. Outdoor exercise, in any form, brings about these moments of clarity and makes your indoor life flow a lot more easily.

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Outdoor time gives you time for yourself, even when you're with a bunch of other people.

Skiing, hiking, or climbing with others is great fun, but there will also be certain moments that are exclusively your own, where you'll see your individual achievements with clarity and admiration, separate from your group participation. There's nothing like that! Studies have shown children suffering from ADHD had higher concentration levels after returning from outdoor activities.

Being outdoors is amazing for stress.

Researchers at the University of Essex in England suggest that exercising outdoors in the presence of nature is beneficial for mental health. "Green exercise," as they refer to it, dovetails research showing measurable benefits from living in proximity to green, open spaces. There’s no better way to practice living in the moment or "being present" than by taking a walk, hike, or bike ride, whether it be simply around the neighborhood or with a particular challenging goal in mind. Outdoor activity is the new "me time."

As someone who spends a good portion of time outdoors, I know it can be addicting. Despite this, scientists reveal that some 45 to 70 percent of us don’t get enough outside time, which is crazy. Make 2018 the year you "get out there." Even if you build 20 minutes of outdoor time into every day, within a month you’ll be craving more—and feeling the physical and mental benefits as well.

Want ideas for outdoor workouts? Here are four you can do as a family.

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