Science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be found on a treadmill, spin bike, or indoor gym.
A Scottish Health Survey (2008) of 2,000 active participants found that outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than going to the gym. The researchers, from Glasgow University, found that walking, running, biking, and other outdoor activities in green space, reduced stress.
Compared with indoor exercise, being active outdoors is also associated with increased energy, as well as decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Happily, participants from a number of further studies also reported they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date. Enjoyment is key!
Here are some of the perks to working out outdoors:
- Outdoor exercise tends to be more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. The difference? The subtle changes of exercising outdoors, like wind resistance and changes in terrain, add up.
- In some recent studies volunteers were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill track, the other outdoors. In every study, the volunteers reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while also reporting reduced tension, fatigue and depression after walking outdoors.
- A few small studies have found that those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors. More research on this, as well as the effect of exercising in natural light, may tell us more.
- Overall participant enjoyment may be the most important reason to exercise outdoors and make it easier to stick with it. With only 15% of Canadian adults active enough for health benefits, indoor gyms clearly aren’t changing behaviour. Perhaps the best exercise of all, is a daily outdoor walk.
- When we exercise outdoors (do make sure you protect your skin from the sun), we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Further, exposure to sunlight during the day can help us sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase feel-good hormones circulating throughout our bodies.
- No gym membership is required. Outdoor exercise suits every budget!
- Outdoor exercise – whether a walk, hike, run, rally on the community tennis courts, or a bike ride, can be done almost anywhere.
Here’s to an active summer!