Tag Archives: fitness-and-wellness

Small Doses of Nature Can Lead to Big Health Benefits

Many people believe that being outdoors in nature is good for them, and research backs that up. But what “dosage” of nature is needed for good health?

Two recent studies show that just ten minutes of exposure to nature, two to three times per week, provides real health benefits. And you don’t have to visit the wilderness to get the good effects; short nature “time-outs” can happen in small, urban green spaces or even your backyard.

The studies were conducted by Mary Carol Hunter at the University of Michigan and Marc Berman of the University of Chicago. The studies are part of a larger body of research supported by the TKF Foundation, which funds projects across the country integrating the design of urban green spaces with research on user benefits. TKF has funded the creation of more than 130 publicly accessible, urban green spaces, and seeks to prove that green spaces provide health benefits through contemplation and restoration, with the goal of influencing city planning and design.

Hunter’s study had subjects immerse themselves in nature and answer questions before and after about their mental well-being on a mobile app. The digital entries were correlated with participants’ cortisol levels in saliva, an indicator of stress. After being exposed to nature for just ten minutes, two to three times a week, participants reported having significantly less stress, improved ability to focus, and increased satisfaction with their mood and energy levels. Also, benefits were greater in residential landscapes or small parks.

In Berman’s study, subjects were asked to take a 2.5 mile, 50-minute walk through either a dense urban environment or an arboretum. Afterward, they were given memory tests to measure their ability to concentrate or focus. Those who walked through the arboretum had a 20 percent improvement in working memory over the other group.

The two researchers are still working to answer questions such as how senses other than sight might influence health benefits, and which features of nature create a sense of well-being and improve one’s ability to concentrate. However, their studies make a strong case that exposure to nature, even in small doses and in urban settings, makes you feel better. And that’s an important part of good health.



Garth Ashbeck, M.D.Dr. Ashbeck is an MPCP partner and sees patients in the Pasadena office. Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, he received his medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his residency program in Family Practice at Memorial Medical Center.

A New Prescription: Treating Disease with Exercise

The next time your doctor reaches for his prescription pad, don’t be surprised if he recommends exercise instead of medication.  A growing number of healthcare providers are encouraging patients to think of physical activity as their new medication.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that exercise affects outcomes for some serious medical conditions about equally as well as prescription drugs.  For example, exercise provided better outcomes in patients rehabilitating after a stroke, and for people with coronary heart disease and pre-diabetes, exercise and drugs had about equal outcomes.

This is not to say that patients should throw their prescriptions away. Medication is necessary for the successful treatment of many conditions. However, the study supports the idea that many patients would benefit from their doctors prescribing exercise.

In general, people who are physically active tend to live longer and are at lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And since obesity is linked to serious health problems, exercise leading to weight loss can also help reduce the risk for conditions such high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

This isn’t surprising.  Our bodies are meant to move, so incorporating exercise into our day allows them to work optimally. That includes our brains: physical activity improves sleep, mood, cognition and the ability to concentrate.

Exercise isn’t the answer to every health problem, but it can play an important role in the treatment and prevention of disease. Talk to your doctor about how a “prescription” for exercise can help you.

Exercise Rx for Better Health

The CDC recommends weekly exercise and strengthening activities for adults. This can include physical activities such as labor, yardwork and housework.  Also, you don’t have to do all of your exercise at once; you can spread your activity out during the week. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day, as long as you do at least 10 minutes at a time.

The following options will give you the activity levels you need for better health.

Option 1

150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) every week


Weight training/muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Option 2

75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running every week


Weight training/muscle-strengthening on 2 or more days a week.

WPNeverdon_HHarriett Neverdon, Family Nurse Practitioner-Certified, sees patients in MPCP’s Columbia office. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Towson University and her Master of Science in Nursing degree from University of Maryland School of Nursing. She is board certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners in Family Practice.

Hop on a Bike to Get Fit, Lose Weight

By Jose Zarzuela, M.D.

When it comes to exercise, it’s hard to beat bicycle riding. Biking combines cardiovascular fitness with building strength and stamina – and it’s fun.  You can get a good workout while enjoying a ride in the park.  And people of all ages and fitness levels can do it.

There are many benefits to biking:

It’s one of the easiest ways to exercise. You can ride a bicycle almost anywhere, at any time of the year. All you need is a bike and half an hour several times a week.

It tones you all over.  Biking improves general muscle function with little risk of strain or injury. Regular cycling strengthens leg muscles and is great for the mobility of hip and knee joints. Gripping the handlebars also helps tone your upper body.

It’s great for your heart.  You can easily boost your heart rate for a good cardiovascular workout. Pump it up by including hills in your ride. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of moderate riding three times a week can help lower your blood pressure and LDL (bad blood cholesterol), reducing your risk of heart disease.

It boosts energy. Research has shown that bike riding improves energy and decreases fatigue. How? Cycling triggers your brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to energy.

It’s kind to your joints. Riding a bike puts a lot less stress on your knees, ankles, and spine than running or other high-impact exercises. Most people can easily ride moderate distances without much strain or pain.

It promotes weight loss. Riding can burn hundreds of calories per hour, depending on your size and how fast you go. Since it helps build muscle, cycling will also boost your metabolic rate long after you’ve finished your ride. This chart shows how many calories you can burn on a bike.

It helps reduce stress. Like any regular exercise, riding can reduce stress and depression and improve well-being and self-esteem.  It’s also a good way to be enjoy nature and refresh your mind and soul.

Before you hop and pedal away, keep a few things in mind:

Most people can do bike riding. However, if you’ve been inactive, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor first. Your doctor can advise you regarding your limits and capacities and what you should avoid doing.

Be safe. Biking is fun, but it’s important to get the right equipment for the activity. Always wear a helmet and consider knee pads and elbow pads in case of falls. And if you plan to ride on the streets, make sure you obey all traffic laws, use proper hand signals, and wear bright, visible clothing so cars can easily see you.

Start off easy. For beginners, begin by riding 30 minutes three times a week. Gradually increase the number and length of your rides as you gain strength and experience.

Speed up slowly. Gradual increases in speed are an important aspect of fitness cycling. Cycling can be strenuous, so the key to successful fitness riding is to be patient and not hurry in increasing your limits.

Once you’ve built up your strength and endurance, there are many enjoyable bike rides to take in the Baltimore-Washington area. They vary in length and difficulty. Here are links to some of them:




Washington, D.C.:


Jose Zarzuela, M.D.Jose Zarzuela is an MPCP partner and practices in our Pasadena office. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Gardening as Exercise

by Clare Ross, CRNP

Working in the garden on a pleasant day is certainly good for the soul, but how about your body ─  does it count as exercise?

Yes, indeed. Gardening is similar to other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise like walking and bicycling. Gardening works all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Tasks that use these muscles build strength and burn calories.

Digging, lifting bags of mulch and pushing wheelbarrows all provide strength training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints. Yet there is minimal jarring and stress on the body, unlike aerobics or jogging.

Gardening can help keep you limber since there can be a great deal of stretching involved, like reaching for weeds or branches, bending to plant or extending a rake.

It takes at least 30 minutes of exercise several days a week to really receive any health benefits from gardening. However, you can break that time up into shorter active periods throughout the day. So you can do a little weeding in the cool of the morning and go back out to the garden in the evening to prune and trim.

Gardening can also help you burn calories and lose weight. The number of calories burned depends on several factors, including your size and the task you are performing, but the National Gardening Magazine provides these examples:

Activity Calories Burned Per 30 Mins.*
Watering 60
Planting seedlings 160
Weeding 180
Trimming shrubs (manual tools) 180
Digging & tilling 200
Gardening with heavy power tools 240

* Based on a 180-pound person. Lighter people generally burn fewer calories, and heavier people typically burn more.

If you’re new to gardening, start slowly and build up the length of time of your workouts. Avoid injuries by using your legs to lift heavy loads. Don’t stretch too far to reach awkward shrubs; this will prevent muscle strain. Vary your tasks and your movements and make use of the major muscle groups to get the most benefit. Make sure you incorporate a little stretching before and after gardening and take things slowly on hot days. Drink plenty of water if you are outside for more than 30 minutes. Use gloves and wear long sleeves to prevent cuts and scratches.

After you are done, have a hot shower to soothe your muscles, wash off any possible poison ivy residue, and check for ticks. And as with any other form of exercise, check with your doctor first if you’re not used to strenuous activity.

So go out into your garden, enjoy the lovely spring weather, and get some exercise!

Clare Ross, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, sees patients in the Queenstown office. She is board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center in Family Practice, and joined MPCP in 1997.