man running on road near grass field

Exercise outside: why it’s great for your body and soul

8 minutes

For the fitness enthusiast, the treadmill might seem like a reliable companion, but as we are now into warmer weather, the allure of the great outdoors has become undeniable.

Sunshine streaming through leaves, the invigorating scent of pine, the soft crunch of gravel underfoot – these are just a few reasons why outdoor exercise so good.

Sure, the gym offers convenience and controlled environments, but venturing outside unlocks a treasure trove of benefits that go far beyond getting a sweat on. Let’s explore why swapping the gym for a taste of fresh air might be the perfect way to elevate your workout routine.

A Breath of Fresh Air for Your Body and Mind

The gym boasts air conditioning and shiny equipment, but there’s something undeniably special about exercising outdoors. It’s more than just a change of scenery; it’s a chance to recharge your body and mind in a way the indoors just can’t replicate.

The science backs this up, a study found that outdoor exercise groups showed greater improvements in physical fitness parameters, including VO2 max and muscle strength, compared to indoor exercise groups.

Here’s how a switch to outdoor workouts can benefit you:

  • Sunlight isn’t just about feeling warm. It triggers the production of Vitamin D, essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system. Sunshine also elevates mood by boosting endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
  • Studies show that spending time in nature reduces stress hormones and promotes feelings of calmness and well-being. Breathe in the fresh air, listen to the sounds of birdsong, and let your worries melt away amidst the beauty of the outdoors.
  • Outdoor workouts offer endless possibilities. Hike a challenging trail, explore a scenic park with a brisk walk, or set up a bodyweight circuit using park benches or trees. This constant change keeps your workouts interesting and prevents plateaus in your fitness journey.
  • Compared to the potentially stuffy confines of a gym, exercising outdoors allows for better oxygen intake. This can enhance your workout performance and leave you feeling more energized.

In short, outdoor exercise isn’t just about getting a sweat on; it’s a holistic approach to fitness that invigorates both your body and mind.

Gym vs. Outdoor Workouts: The Pros and Cons

If you are still deciding between hitting the gym or embracing the great outdoors, we’ve provided some considerations for both. Ultimately both are great, but understanding these differences can help you choose the best workout environment to suit your lifestyle and fitness goals.

AspectGym WorkoutsOutdoor Workouts
CostPro: Membership includes access to all equipment and classes.Pro: Typically free or low-cost, as public spaces are generally free to use.
Con: Monthly or annual membership fees can be high.Con: May require investment in personal equipment (e.g., running shoes, bicycle).
AccessibilityPro: Convenient and consistent access regardless of weather or time of day.Pro: Easily accessible in local parks, trails, and neighborhoods.
Con: Requires a commute if not located nearby.Con: Dependent on weather and daylight, which can limit availability.
VarietyPro: Wide range of equipment and classes available.Pro: Infinite variety with changing landscapes and activities (hiking, running, cycling).
Con: Can become monotonous if workouts are not varied.Con: May require more creativity to plan workouts.
SafetyPro: Controlled environment with safety features (e.g., spotters, padded equipment).Pro: Natural terrain can provide safer, softer surfaces for joints.
Con: Risk of injury if equipment is used improperly.Con: Potential risks from uneven terrain, weather conditions, and traffic.
Impact on Mental HealthPro: Social environment can provide motivation and reduce feelings of isolation.Pro: Exposure to nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
Con: Can be noisy and crowded, which may be stressful for some.Con: Potential for isolation if exercising alone in remote areas.
Overall EnvironmentPro: Controlled climate and clean facilities.Pro: Fresh air, natural light, and stimulating environments.
Con: Artificial lighting and indoor air can be less invigorating.Con: Exposure to elements (rain, heat, cold) can be challenging.

Unleash The Outdoor Athlete

So you’ve decided to ditch the gym and embrace the great outdoors for your workouts – fantastic choice! But with this newfound freedom comes the question: how do you make your outdoor exercise sessions truly effective?

The beauty of outdoor exercise lies in its versatility. Cater your workout to your fitness level. Start with brisk walking, gradually progressing to hikes with inclines. Use park benches and trees for bodyweight circuits or challenge yourself with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in open spaces.

Social interaction can be a powerful motivator. Find a friend who shares your fitness goals and hit the trails together. Alternatively, consider joining a local outdoor fitness group for a dose of community and expert guidance. There are also lots of websites where you can find fitness groups near to you.

Spontaneity can be fun, but a well-planned route ensures a safe and enjoyable workout. Map out a scenic path that matches your fitness level using apps like Strava or Nike Run Club. These tools offer route suggestions and can even track your progress.

Warming up and cooling down are just as important outdoors as they are in the gym. Dynamic stretches prepare your muscles for movement, while static stretches after your cool-down improve flexibility and prevent injury.

Exercise Outdoor

What to wear for outdoors exercise

Embracing the outdoors for your workouts is fantastic, but unlike the controlled environment of a gym, you’ll need to adapt to the elements. The key to outdoor clothing? Adaptability!

  • Breathable fabrics are your best friend. Opt for moisture-wicking synthetics that pull sweat away from your body, or choose natural fibers like cotton for cooler days.
  • Layering is crucial, allowing you to adjust to changing temperatures. Pack a light jacket or windbreaker for chilly mornings or unexpected breezes.
  • Choose clothing that allows for a full range of motion without being baggy. Avoid restrictive clothing that can chafe or hinder your movement.
  • Proper footwear is essential for supporting your body on uneven terrain. Invest in a good pair of athletic shoes with good traction. Consider trail running shoes for added grip and ankle support, especially if you plan on tackling challenging hikes or off-road adventures.
  • Staying hydrated is even more critical outdoors, especially under the sun. A hands-free hydration pack allows for easy access to water throughout your workout. Opt for a pack that fits comfortably and has enough capacity for the duration of your exercise session.

Smart Gadgets for Your Outdoor Workout

While the beauty of outdoor exercise lies in its connection to nature, a touch of technology can further enhance your experience and track your progress. Here are some optional tech tools to consider:

  • Fitness Trackers: These handy wrist companions can monitor your heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned. This data can help you stay motivated, track your progress over time, and ensure you’re pushing yourself to reach your fitness goals.
  • Navigation Apps: Getting lost on a trail can put a damper on your workout. GPS apps like Google Maps or dedicated hiking apps like AllTrails can help you stay on track, especially on unfamiliar paths. These apps can also provide elevation data and suggest routes based on difficulty and distance.
  • Music on the Move: Upbeat music can be a powerful motivator during a workout. Consider investing in a pair of wireless headphones that allow you to enjoy your tunes without the hassle of tangled cords. Just be sure to stay aware of your surroundings, especially on shared trails.

How to keep safe

The beauty and freedom of outdoor exercise are undeniable, but venturing outside also means being prepared for the unexpected. Follow these are some safety tips for a worry-free and enjoyable workout.

  • Always check the forecast before heading out. Adjust your plans or postpone your workout altogether if extreme weather conditions like thunderstorms, heavy rain, or scorching heat are predicted.
  • Especially during low-light hours, make sure you’re visible to others. Wear bright or reflective clothing to ensure cars and cyclists can easily spot you. Consider using a headlamp or reflective vest for added visibility.
  • Before heading out, inform a friend or family member about your exercise plans. Share your intended route and estimated return time. This way, someone knows where you are in case of an emergency.
  • Listen to Your Body. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially when starting out. Take breaks when needed and pay attention to your body’s signals. If you experience pain, dizziness, or extreme fatigue, stop your workout and head home.
  • Exercising with a partner can enhance safety, especially on unfamiliar trails or in remote areas. You can motivate each other, keep an eye on each other’s well-being, and get help faster in case of an emergency.
  • Carry a small first-aid kit in case of minor injuries like scrapes or blisters. Pack a whistle to attract attention if needed and consider bringing a small amount of cash and your phone for emergencies.

Keeping Your Routine Fresh

You’ve conquered the “why” and “how” of outdoor workouts, now it’s time to truly embrace the outdoors and turn exercise into an adventure! Here are some ways to keep things fresh and exciting:

Join the Club: Many parks and community centers offer free or low-cost outdoor fitness classes. Explore options like yoga in the park, boot camps in the fresh air, or tai chi amidst the trees. Group fitness provides a fun social element and expert guidance, making your workout a shared experience.

Go Seasonal: Embrace the changing seasons and tailor your workouts accordingly. Take a refreshing swim in a lake during the summer or challenge yourself with a snowshoe trek in the winter. These seasonal activities add variety and keep your workouts interesting year-round.

Make it Fun!: The key to sticking with any exercise program is to enjoy it! Blast your favorite tunes with wireless headphones and let the music energize your workout. Use apps like Strava or AllTrails to discover new hiking trails, scenic bike paths, or hidden parks in your area.

Bring a Buddy: Exercise with a friend, family member, or even your dog! Sharing the experience makes the time fly by and adds a layer of social interaction.

Useful Resources For Exercising Outside

AllTrailsDatabase of hiking, running, and biking trails with user reviews and maps.AllTrails
TrailLinkDetailed maps and information on trails across the U.S. managed by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.TrailLink
Local Parks Department WebsitesWebsites listing local parks, trails, and outdoor amenities maintained by city or town parks and recreation departments.Search for your city’s name followed by “parks and recreation”.
MeetupPlatform to find and join groups for outdoor fitness classes and workout groups.Meetup
ClassPassBooking platform for fitness classes, including outdoor options, in various cities.ClassPass
Local Community Centers and YMCAsFacilities offering a range of outdoor fitness classes and activities.Search for your city’s name followed by “community center” or “YMCA”.
Facebook EventsPlatform to find local fitness events, including outdoor workouts, in your area.Facebook Events
StravaSocial network for athletes to find local running and cycling groups and join community challenges.Strava
Running in the USADirectory of running clubs, races, and events across the United States.Running in the USA
USA Cycling ClubsDirectory of local cycling clubs and events provided by USA Cycling.USA Cycling Clubs

Breathe Deep, Get Moving, and Embrace the Outdoors

With its potential to boost your mood, strengthen your body, and connect you with nature, outdoor exercise is a winning formula for overall well-being. So, lace up your shoes, grab your water bottle, and step outside. Whether you choose a brisk walk in the park, a challenging hike, or a social fitness class, embrace the possibilities that outdoor workouts offer. You might just discover a whole new level of enjoyment and effectiveness in your fitness journey!