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Nature’s “Green” Boosts Mood and Energy

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Do you train clients outdoors? You may want to head for verdant forests and lush, grassy settings to boost participants’ mood and energy levels.

Being exposed to the color green may be one reason why exercising in nature, also referred to as green exercise, produces physical and mental rewards beyond those that come from exercise alone. Studies have shown that green exercise improves mood, self-esteem, enjoyment and motivation. Researchers from the University of Essex, in England, wanted to tease out the extent to which the color green, as a primitive visual characteristic of natural settings, contributes to these benefits.

Fourteen subjects participated in three moderate-intensity cycling tasks while watching videos of a rural cycling course out in nature. The footage in each video had different coloring: achromatic gray, red or the normal predominantly green image. At the cycling trials, scientists took physical measures of workload, rating of perceived exertion and state of mood. Data analysis showed that subjects experienced less mood disturbance and had a lower RPE while watching the natural green video. During the red video, subjects experienced stronger feelings of anger.

Study authors concluded that the color green contributed to the benefits gained from green exercise. Author Dominic Micklewright, PhD, associate dean of the University of Essex Online in the school of biological sciences, said, “There is lots of evidence now that exercising in natural environments has positive physiological and psychological therapeutic effects, but what our most recent study has begun to explore are the cognitive mechanisms responsible for such effects. We are hoping that through further studies we will be able to gain a much better understanding of how people perceive and respond to natural environments, which will enable us to capitalize on the therapeutic potential that such environments offer.”

Limitations of the study included the small sample size. Other research has shown that color affects psychological feelings. For example, exposure to red or yellow heightens arousal, while green and blue evoke calm and tranquility. This stimulating quality of certain colors may explain the current popularity of neon-bright training apparel. More research is needed regarding the cognitive mechanisms between color perception and mood.

The green study is available in Environmental Science & Technology (2012; 46, 8661–66).

Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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