The health benefits of moving naturally


Even though we live near the beach and have access to golf, tennis and hiking, among other outdoor activities, our busy lives seem to keep us from taking advantage of the natural beauty and resources our communities provide.

In addition, some of our greatest achievements in modern living have made it more challenging for us to truly connect with the natural world and realize our true health potential. We sit at desks all day or spend the day driving to and from activities and neglect our own need to get up and out to use the full scope of our physical abilities. When we neglect our need for activity, the result can be a compromise of function in our limbs, spine, joints and overall health.

Consider “Green Exercise.” Green exercise is the name given to physical activity performed in nature. Both physical activity and exposure to nature affect health in a positive way. Studies published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research have concluded that there are distinct synergistic health benefits that occur when these unique factors are combined, and that green exercise has important environmental and public health consequences. In addition, green exercise (including activities such as walking, cycling and boating) helps boost self-esteem and reduces anger, confusion, depression and anxiety. Exercise performed according to green exercise principles is intended to improve your strength, fitness, mood and physical, mental and spiritual health.


Natural skills and movements

Natural skills and movements can be divided into two principle categories: movements that involve locomotion and movements that involve manipulation. Walking, running, crawling, jumping, swimming and climbing are all examples of locomotive skills, whereas key manipulative skills or movements include catching, carrying, lifting and throwing, among others. Our ancestors had to be adept at many of these natural skills, as they used them in their day to day lives. Today, few people, except for children, engage in this wide range of activities, to the detriment of our musculoskeletal well-being. Inactivity is a major factor in reduced joint range of motion and joint health, including spine function and health.


The restorative power of nature

Performing natural skills in the natural world is a powerful way to combat or prevent chronic musculoskeletal problems and pain but simply spending time in nature is, by itself, an effective way to develop better health. Studies have shown that the restorative effects arising from experiences in nature are greater than those arising from vacation experiences in urban environments or situations involving simple passive relaxation.

Engaging in active play in the natural world is a powerful way to restore physical health, but green exercise positively affects mental health too. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, green exercise helps significantly boost mood, especially when performed in the presence of water. This study also noted that the mentally ill showed the greatest improvements in self-esteem among all study participants participating in green exercise and that the environment provides an important health service.  

Green exercise is an effective way to re-establish a connection with the natural world that, for many of us, has been lost from years of sedentary, urban living. Performing ancient skills in a natural setting can improve all facets of health and remind us of our inherent strengths and abilities. It is important to remember that moving naturally is not risk-free and so you should always talk with your health care professional if you have any concerns, to determine the green exercise activities that are most appropriate for you.


Dr. Erika Hamer, DC, DIBCN, DIBE, is a chiropractic neurologist and the owner of Ponte Vedra Wellness Center, offering chiropractic care and related health and wellness services at offices in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee Town Center.