The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise – Why You Should Take Your Workout Outside

Women exercise outdoors
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Don’t you agree that the walls of gyms can sometimes feel a bit too close?

With so many people in one room, sometimes I feel like there’s no air which makes me feel so exhausted and unmotivated.

That’s why I tried taking my workout outside. It offered me not just a breath of fresh air but a multitude of benefits that invigorated both my body and mind.

Let’s explore why swapping the treadmill for the trail might just be the best decision you’ll make for your health.

Key Takeaways

  • Outdoor exercise enhances physical health by increasing Vitamin D levels, burning more calories, and improving balance and agility through varied terrains.
  • It boosts mental well-being by elevating mood, reducing stress, and offering a digital detox.

Why Take Your Workout Outside?

1. You’re Exposed to the Sunshine Vitamin!

Sun Exposure - Running

Vitamin D, often dubbed the “sunshine vitamin,” is crucial for our body, aiding in the absorption of calcium and promoting bone health, alongside bolstering our immune system. Unlike dietary sources, the most effective way to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D is through direct sun exposure.

Exercising outdoors naturally increases your Vitamin D levels, which can be especially beneficial in areas where people might spend a lot of time indoors or in regions with long winters.

According to endocrinologist John Bilezikian, when bodies can’t activate vitamin D, deficiencies occur. This is particularly important for individuals who have advanced kidney or liver disease.

2. It’s a Natural Mood Booster

Outdoor activities is powerful natural mood enhancer

The benefits of natural light and being in nature go beyond the physical. Studies have shown that exposure to natural light can significantly boost mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The combination of sunlight, fresh air, and the tranquil sights and sounds of nature works to increase the production of serotonin, often referred to as the “happy hormone,” making outdoor workouts a powerful natural mood enhancer.

3. Varied Workout Terrain

Working out on the sand surface

Outdoor environments offer diverse terrains—hills, trails, sand, and grass—all of which present different challenges compared to the flat and predictable surfaces found in gyms. This variety can help to engage different muscle groups, improve coordination, and increase the intensity of your workout unintentionally.

The natural unevenness of the ground forces your body to adapt constantly, enhancing your overall physical fitness and making your workout sessions more dynamic and effective.

4. It Enhances Creativity and Focus

Spending time in nature boost creativity and focus

Spending time in nature has been linked to improved creativity and focus. The serene environment not only helps in clearing your mind but also in reducing mental fatigue.

Engaging in outdoor activities can lead to an increase in concentration levels and creative problem-solving skills, offering a refreshing break from the monotony of indoor exercise and daily routines.

A new, small study focusing on the neurological effects of “green exercise” — which is a physical activity performed in nature — shows that a brief walk in a leafy environment significantly boosts working memory and concentration compared to the same short walk indoors.

Physical Benefits

1. Burns More Calories

Cycling on hilly paths

Outdoor activities inherently involve more physical effort compared to exercising indoors due to factors like wind resistance and terrain variability. For instance, running against the wind or cycling on hilly paths requires more energy, leading to a higher calorie burn.

This natural resistance can help in achieving weight loss goals more efficiently than working out in a controlled indoor environment.

2. Builds a Stronger Body

Outdoor exercises often result in a full-body workout. Activities like hiking, swimming, or even outdoor yoga challenge your body in unique ways, engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

The natural elements and varied terrains offer resistance and require adaptation, contributing to the development of a stronger, more versatile physique.

3. Improves Balance and Agility

Outdoor terrains enhances proprioception

The unpredictable nature of outdoor terrains enhances proprioception—the awareness of body position and movement—thus improving balance and agility. Navigating through uneven paths, for example, requires constant adjustments in body positioning, which strengthens the core muscles and improves overall stability.

This benefit is difficult to replicate with indoor exercises that often occur on flat and stable surfaces.

Mental Health Advantages

1. It Reduces Stress

Engaging with natural environments can significantly lower stress levels and decrease cortisol, a stress-related hormone. The calming effect of being outdoors, surrounded by greenery and open space, facilitates a mental shift away from stressors, promoting relaxation and a sense of well-being.

2. A Break from Digital Overload

Digital detox in nature

Outdoor exercise provides a necessary respite from the constant barrage of screens and digital notifications.

The digital detox can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety levels, allowing for a mental recharge that improves overall life satisfaction and productivity.

3. It Boosts Self-Esteem

Physical activity in natural settings has been shown to have a more pronounced effect on self-esteem than exercising indoors.

The accomplishment of completing a hike, reaching the top of a hill, or even the act of getting outside can provide a significant confidence boost, enhancing self-perception and motivation.

How to Get Started?

1. Define Your Fitness Goals

Before anything else, pinpoint why you’re pursuing outdoor exercise. Is it for weight loss, mental health, increased strength, or endurance? Understanding your motivation is crucial. When setting your goals, ensure they are:

  • Specific: Clearly define what you want to achieve.
  • Realistic: Set goals that are attainable given your current lifestyle.
  • Measurable: Make sure your goal can be tracked and measured.
  • Time-bound: Assign a deadline to your goal to keep yourself accountable.
  • Achievable: Ensure your goal is practical and reachable.

For instance, aiming to lose a specific amount of weight within a given timeframe or reaching a particular distance while jogging are excellent examples of well-defined fitness goals.

2. Select Your Outdoor Exercise Spot

Outdoor Exercise Spot - City parks

Finding the perfect location is your next step.

While your backyard is a convenient option, exploring public parks can offer more variety.

Many parks provide free-to-use exercise equipment. But it is not necessary, you can train without it.

3. Craft a Realistic Exercise Schedule

Create a workout schedule that aligns with your fitness goal. Aim for a balanced plan suggested by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly, coupled with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week, targeting all major muscle groups.

4. Develop a Training Plan

Your training plan should match your fitness level and goals, especially if strength training is a part of your routine. A balanced plan for beginners might include:

Muscle Group Exercises
Back Bent-over rows, pull-ups, back extensions
Chest Bench press, flys
Shoulders Shoulder press, reverse flys
Arms Bicep curls, tricep dips
Core Sit-ups, Russian twists
Legs and Glutes Squats, lunges, hamstring curls, leg extensions

*Remember to schedule rest days for recovery to prevent overtraining and injuries.

5. Gather Necessary Equipment

Exercise with the resistance bands

While outdoor fitness parks offer various equipment, bringing additional items can enhance your workout. Consider:

  • Yoga mat: For stretching or core workouts.
  • Dumbbells: Choose a comfortable weight for strength training.
  • Resistance bands: Versatile for both lower and upper body exercises.
  • Medicine ball: Adds intensity to core exercises and more.

*Don’t forget essentials like water, a towel, and durable workout shoes.

6. Find a Workout Buddy

Working out with a friend can make exercise more enjoyable and keep you motivated.

Coordinate schedules to find a convenient time and place. You can also form a workout group for added fun and accountability.

7. Work on Active Recovery

Active Recovery - Outdoor

Recovery is as important as the workout itself. It allows your body to repair and grow stronger. Incorporate active recovery by scheduling days for light activities like walking, cycling, or gentle yoga.

Always end workouts with a cool-down session to prevent muscle stiffness.

Ending each workout with gentle stretches or planning lighter activity days helps your body to recuperate, ensuring you’re ready for the next challenge.

FAQs

Can outdoor exercise routines be effective during all seasons?
Yes, they can be adapted for all seasons with proper preparation. During colder months, layering appropriate clothing and focusing on activities that keep you moving continuously can help maintain warmth. In warmer seasons, staying hydrated, wearing sunscreen, and exercising during cooler parts of the day are crucial for safety.
How do I deal with inclement weather when planning outdoor workouts?
Have a backup plan such as a home workout routine, or use this time for rest and recovery. Alternatively, you can engage in weather-appropriate outdoor activities like snowshoeing in winter or indoor swimming during rainy seasons.
How can I track my progress with an outdoor exercise routine?
Use a fitness app to track your activities, set goals, and monitor progress. Many apps can log distance, time, elevation gained, and calories burned. Additionally, keeping a personal exercise diary can help track improvements in strength and endurance over time.
How can I maintain motivation if my outdoor exercise routine becomes monotonous?
Vary your activities, locations, and workout times. Joining group classes or community fitness challenges can also introduce new exercises and social elements to rejuvenate your motivation.

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