If you’re anything like me, you’re soooo over those long winter nights. Now that the sun is making a more regular appearance, it’s time to start exercising outdoors.
Why Exercising Outdoors is Better
Any exercise is healthy, whether indoors or out. Physical activity has a variety of benefits for our bodies and our minds. But exercising outdoors has added benefits that you can’t find in the gym. There is a reason a run outside feels shorter than the same run on a treadmill. You can see your progress, feel the ground as you pass beyond it, and look at the world around you to distract you from the pain in your shins (or maybe that’s just me?).
5 Benefits of Exercising Outdoors
Besides being a little more fun, exercising outdoors has five other important benefits.
1. Exposure to Vitamin D
Being outdoors is the easiest and most effective way to absorb Vitamin D, a vitamin critical to multiple functions in our bodies. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, keeping our bones strong. The vitamin is also linked to better athletic performance, muscle growth, immune system health, and heart and lung function.
Spending a few minutes exercising outdoors can dramatically increase your Vitamin D levels – even on a cloudy day.
2. Stress Reduction
Walking in the forest could literally save your life, at least according to one Japanese study. A 2010 report examined the health benefits of Shinrin-yoku, translated as “forest bathing” or taking in the scenery in a wooded area.
The study observed participants after walking in the woods (Shinrin-yoku) and again as they stayed indoors or walked through a crowded metropolitan area. After each activity, researchers measured participants’ cortisol levels (stress hormone), blood pressure, and heart rate, among other vital signs. After being outside in nature, participants routinely displayed lower cortisol levels, heart rates, and blood pressure.
If you’re stressed, the answer might be just outside your door.
3. It’s Free!
We love our gyms. They are a great place to get our sweat on with people we love and admire. But gym memberships can be costly. The great outdoors is completely free and open 24/7. No membership required; just some sunglasses and a pair of shoes (and preferably some pants and a shirt, too).
4. Burn More Calories
It might be hard to believe, but science shows that if you perform the same exercise outside and inside, you will burn more calories while exercising outdoors. Indoors, the conditions stay the same, so your body only burns calories based on your physical activity. Outdoors, on the other hand, your body has to adjust to changing temperatures, terrain, and conditions. Not only are you burning calories through exercise, but your body is burning additional calories simply adapting to the outdoors. Bonus prizes!
5. Improved Mood and Self-Esteem
You already know that physical activity has proven impacts on your mental and emotional health. But you might not know that exercising outdoors can magnify those effects.
Sunlight provides us with more than Vitamin D. Being outside also stimulates serotonin production in your brain, that “feel good” chemical that helps regulate your mood. Being outdoors can lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety, too.
Think of exercising outdoors as “double-dipping” in the serotonin pot. Exercise naturally increases serotonin production. But outdoor physical activity gives your mood an extra serotonin boost, releasing those feel-good chemicals into your system with potentially long-lasting effects.
Now that Spring has sprung, and the ice is (mostly) melted, many of us are ready for some time outside. Exercising outdoors benefits both your mind and your body.
Need some ideas to get you started? Give these a try:
- Outdoor hikes at a nearby park or nature area
- Bike rides with family or friends
- A walk or run around the neighborhood
- A HIIT workout in your backyard or other open space
- Water sports like outdoor swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboard, or surfing
For some family-friendly ideas that will get your entire family outside, click here.
What are your favorite outdoor activities? We want to hear your outdoor exercise ideas!