Do you ever find yourself promoting wellness but not feeling all that well yourself? Do you sometimes feel you’re trapped in a concrete jungle? Do you need a change of scenery—and attitude? It’s time to step outside and revel in the wonders of nature.

What Research Shows

If you don’t take time to de-stress when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, your work with clients will be negatively impacted and your life won’t feel as healthy or balanced. Natural settings can help. In the recent “Exploring the Active Lifestyle” survey, 88% of participants said that a natural setting allows them
to escape the pressures of everyday life (Outdoor Industry Foundation 2004). Seventy-nine percent believed it keeps them feeling young, and 76% indicated it allows them to connect with themselves.

The positive impact of nature has been the subject of numerous research studies as well. One discovered that research subjects who watched “slides of unspectacular scenes of nature had an increase in positive mood affect, while those who viewed scenes of urban areas experienced a decline in positive mood affect” (Ulrich 1979). When C.L.E. Rohde and A.D. Kendle reviewed the literature on this topic, they discerned that the “positive psychological response to nature involves feelings of pleasure, sustained attention or interest, ‘relaxed wakefulness’ and diminution of negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety” (Rohde & Kendle 1994).

In another study, researchers compared subjects who walked in a park, walked in an urban setting or relaxed in a comfortable chair (Hartig et al. 1991). The park walk was most effective for relieving mental fatigue.

A Break for Fitness Professionals

While research proves the benefits of nature, fitness professionals know from personal experience that it helps them stay in balance.

Stress Release. “After spending all day in a crowded weight room, the last thing that we want to do is spend more time in that setting doing our own workouts,” say Tim Borys, CSCS, and Crick Nelson, CSCS, professional trainers and owners of Lifestyle Synergy Wellness Consulting in Calgary, Alberta. “Trainers are constantly ‘giving’ energy to clients, and the gym setting starts to become an energy ‘drain.’ Nature provides the chance to remove ourselves from ‘the daily grind’ and provides a renewed source of energy from which to maintain our fitness levels as well as a chance to unwind.”

Change of Mood. Brian Buturla, a personal trainer and performance enhancement specialist certified by the National Association of Sports Medicine and the owner of Private Studio Personal Training in Norwalk, Connecticut, says, “I like to go surfing in hurricanes, snowboard in blizzards and be outside or sprint like a wild man during lightning storms. Nature changes everything, and your own energy can be dramatically revamped if you know how to do it safely. Also, challenging my body and helping others do the same in nature are a must to feeling great and growing spiritually.”

Combining Work and Play. While spending personal time in nature is ideal, Borys and Nelson say you can also take advantage of the great outdoors when training clients. “One of the best ways to combine nature and work is to take clients outside during periods of nice weather,” they say. “The change of routine and scenery will provide a spark of life to both you and your client. A creative trainer will find many ways to adapt workouts to fit in with nature’s surroundings.” (For ideas, see “Trainer in a Bag” in the September 2003 issue of IDEA Personal Trainer.).

When You Live in the City

Even if you live in an urban environment, you can find natural settings. Almost every city has access to parks, pathways, rivers, lakes, beaches, mountains or all of the above, say Borys and Nelson. “Search for local parks or green spaces around your place of work that provide a break from the stress of your day. This differs from the normal ‘trainer’ break that encompasses a visit to the coffee shop to load up on caffeine or the time spent catching up on client programs. Even a 15-minute break in a nearby green space spent people-watching provides a small break from the daily routine and a much needed boost in vitality.”

Just Do—Nothing

You don’t always have to exercise when you’re out in nature. You can just be.

“The peace, tranquillity and fresh, clean air add life and vitality to a body and mind that are constantly bombarded with fluorescent lights and the banging of weights,” say Borys and Nelson.

“Some of the most relaxing times happen at the spur of the moment. For example, when a client cancels, we can seize the opportunity to get outside for a walk in nature or to eat lunch on a park bench. Perhaps we have had a long week and decide to cancel our afternoon appointments in order to take a trip to the mountains.”

Revel in Nature

If you are extremely busy and feel tempted to skip your relaxing time in nature, resist the urge. “Whether you are exercising, relaxing or both, nature has a lot to offer the fitness professional in terms of adding quality and enjoyment to your life,” say Borys and Nelson. “We need to remember that the main reason we train in a gym setting is to prepare people for active living. Active living involves getting outside and experiencing all that nature has to offer. We need to live by the tips we constantly give our clients.”