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Take It Outside! 8 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

woman running through nature park

“But indeed, it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanates from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The Hamster Wheel

When I first met my husband, I was running on a treadmill at my local gym everyday. He was the first person who ever made me question that decision…”Why would you want to just be on a hamster wheel and staring at the same scene for an hour?”

I had to admit, it was boring as hell, and I sort of dreaded it everyday. There were benefits of course: I could distract myself with the gym TV, I could run in comfortable temperatures no matter what it was like outside, and I could stop whenever I wanted and not be miles from home.

However, always up for a challenge, I decided to try some outdoor workouts. The track was a step up, but it was boring running in circles. The magic really happened when I first hit the local park trail.

I had hilly terrain to challenge me, I had fresh air, sunlight on my skin, and beautiful scenery to inspire me. I also loved the feeling of running from one area of the city to another and back again, it felt like a huge accomplishment.

Ready to run? Here is our ultimate beginners training plan for running a 5K.

I even developed a love for running in the rain. There is something so soothing about raindrops cooling you down as you make your way through a rain shower.

I quickly began moving all of my workouts outdoors, even strength training. I now sprint down fields and up hills, I broad jump down my block, I do burpees at the football field, I flip tires at the local high school, and I even lift weights on my back patio. It feels just like playing outdoors as a child.

My enjoyment for working out seemed to increase exponentially when I moved it outdoors. I knew it had something to do with fresh air and sunshine, but I recently discovered a body of research studying the benefits of outdoor exercise, and the benefits go far beyond fresh air.

Lowered Risk of Being Overweight

Those who exercise outdoors may actually have a lower risk of being overweight than those who stay indoors [1]. Studies show that children who spent time outdoors were 27-41% less likely to be overweight than children who stayed inside.

Being indoors seems to make us more lazy, with multiple seating areas and televisions and technology to distract us. Being outside inspires movement and exploration, which helps us to stay active.

Improved Mental Health

A University of Glasgow study found that exercising outdoors showed a greater improvement in mental health than exercising in artificial environments [2]. These results showed an association between regular outdoor exercise with a lower risk of poor mental health and well-being, but not for activity in other types of environment.

It also found a 50% greater positive effect on mental health than exercising indoors. In other words, if you’re already struggling with depression, anxiety, tension, and stress, getting outdoors will increase your likelihood of feeling better than just exercise alone.

Are you mentally fit? Read here for help with improving your mental fitness.

Improved Mood and Self-Esteem

A 2010 study found that exercising for just 5 minutes per day in outdoor environments improved mood and self-esteem greatly, especially if the participant was exercising near water [3]. If you’re having a rough day or feeling down, even a quick stroll outdoors can improve your outlook.

Increase In Exercise Frequency

Exercising outdoors has been proven to have a direct correlation with an increase in exercise frequency [4] [5]. Because of the improved mental aspects that seem to go along with outdoor activity, people who exercised outdoors had a more restorative effect, and therefore an increased desire for more frequent exercise. If you’re struggling with motivation to work out, moving your workout to the great outdoors may help you want to keep at it.

Need even more motivation? This list will make you want to get in shape.

Improved Focus

Exercising outdoors can improve your ability to focus and perform. One study found that children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) who took a 20 minute walk in a park setting improved concentration levels and performance [6]. For us, this means that taking just 20 minutes to get outdoors, especially to a green environment, can help us to perform better at work and school.

It’s Free

While gym memberships and down payments can be a big hit to your bank account and an excuse not to exercise, stepping outside and walking around your neighborhood or the park is absolutely free. I would even go as far as to say, with all these benefits, that it makes you richer.

More Energy Than A Cup of Coffee

Being outdoors seems to revitalize us and make us feel more alive, according to research [7].

“Nature is fuel for the soul…Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.” -Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

(Um, both please? I’d like to take my cup of coffee outdoors and walk, I don’t know about you.)

Dose of Vitamin D

We get vitamin D from sunlight on our skin, and vitamin D is responsible for improved immunity, building stronger bones and muscles, reducing stress and depression, reducing blood pressure, and preventing illnesses like cancer and heart disease [8].

Question: Do you exercise outdoors or indoors? What do you enjoy about either?

  • Michael

    I won’t run on a treadmill! Too boring. I will run outside in any weather, and I just make sure to wear the right gear.

  • Tony Sr

    Great article D. And bicycling down these trails in the park with my dog was good for me too! everyday I did a little more until I reached 5 miles plus. every week I tried to set the bar higher.

  • Mags

    I love this article as it appeals to my next step greatly-however I have issues with the 8th step.. It wasnt written for me!! I live in Ireland, u know that country where the four seasons look something like the attached picture… maybe bout how benefical the moisture is… something ha!!! Sun is a rarity, its just rain, rain and more rain!! :)

    • Deanna Schober

      Ha, Mags I do a good run in the rain but not sure how I would feel about doing it everyday :)

  • Deanna Schober

    Wooo hooo! That’s great. Does Shotzy have a bike too? ;)

  • Deanna Schober

    It does feel really boring to me now. Once you go outside I don’t see how you can go back to a treadmill, no matter how cold it is!

  • Finola Mulcahy

    Have been thinking about starting to walk/run. Don’t know if it is for me though. Having read this I think I should give it a go.

  • Cecile Vargo

    I take my exercise outdoors in a different way using my mini dvd player in my backyard to do my Tae Bo and other exercises in the fresh air on nice days.