Exercising outdoors provides unique physical, cognitive, and emotional health benefits.

This bi-weekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginiaa forward-thinking life plan community for those 62 and older.

Why work out at a fitness center when you can get a great cardio workout while enjoying the fresh air and great views?

Of all the outdoor exercise opportunities around NOVA, hiking is perhaps the most versatile – and one of the most beneficial for your body, brain and mood. It can even give a feeling of admiration. “I find hiking very inspiring,” says Cindy Morrow. “We are surrounded by beauty!”

Cindy and her husband Gene have enjoyed hiking together for the duration of their 49-year marriage. When they moved to the DC area from the Ozarks in Missouri in 2014, she said, “We were happy to see there were amazing mountains, rivers and hiking opportunities.”

The Morrows are part of a small hiking group of future residents of The Mather, a Life Plan community that will open in Tysons in 2024. The group meets every month or two for a day hike, most recently in the Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia. . “Hiking is more fun in a group,” says Cindy. “On the one hand, it makes us put something on the calendar and go. The Mather group allows us to make friends with so many interesting people!

A walking workout

Hiking – even on flat ground – will train muscles including the quads, hamstrings, lower leg and hip muscles. Hiking on an unpaved, slightly uneven trail will also challenge your core muscles. Like any other cardio workout, hiking is good for your cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as for sleep quality and weight loss. (A brisk hike can burn up to 550 calories per hour.) And because walking is weight-bearing exercise, it also helps build bone density.

Switch to a better mood

Walking is good for your brain, as well as your body. Through simple exercise, your body begins to release proteins and chemicals that can help reduce stress levels and have positive effects on memory.

Another benefit of hiking is the release of endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain that minimize any physical discomfort, blocking the sensation of pain and causing a natural surge of “wellness”.

Hit the track, not the treadmill

Research shows that exercising outdoors versus training in a gym provides unique benefits for physical, cognitive, and emotional health:

  • Numerous studies have shown that regular exposure to “green spaces” can cause our bodies to relax and release stress, as well as reduce anxiety. A study found that people in nature had slower heart rates and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who spent time in the city.
  • Walking or exercising outdoors has also been proven to boost short-term memory. Simply spending time in nature is also associated with improved concentration and attention span.
  • Studies have linked time spent in nature to lower levels of inflammation, reduced hypertension, and even a stronger immune system.

Research has found that people who run outdoors expend more energy than treadmill runners; they also benefit more from it and will therefore work longer.

Want to try a hike? The Morrows recommend Catoctin Mountain Park, Great Falls Park, “anywhere along the Shenandoah,” and Rock Creek Park, among many others.

The Mather, slated to open in Tysons, Virginia in 2024 for ages 62 and older, is a forward-thinking lifestyle community that defies expectations of what senior living is meant to be. With an enviable urban neighborhood location, the community offers easy access to area parks and hiking trails.