exercise outside

11 Compelling Reasons to Take Your Workout Outdoors

Has your gym training become stale? It can be a challenge to keep up the momentum. Maybe you need a change of scenery.

Want a workout that will boost your mood and your health, and save you some money? Once you know the awesome benefits of training outside, gym training might just become your last resort.

Taking your workout outdoors delivers perks that you can’t get from pounding a treadmill.  Whether it’s cardio, resistance band training, or HIIT, you can get an unbeatable full-body workout outside.

Here’s why:

It Burns More Calories

First things first.  Calorie burning is one of your top priorities, right?  You’ll burn more outside, probably without even noticing you’re doing it.  Studies have shown that training outdoors burns up to a whopping 30% more calories than training inside – that’s a huge benefit for little or no extra conscious effort!

Exercising outside forces you to get a better workout because it requires more energy.  Think of the elements – increased or lowered temperature, wind, hills, steps, constantly varying terrain and ground surface.  All of these natural elements come together to provide more resistance and make you work harder.  But you’ll be enjoying it so much you won’t notice.

The Ambience

You’ll be enjoying it so much because the ambience is better.

Think of your options:  stare at a brick wall while pounding the treadmill with artificial lights bearing down on you, or get out into natural sunlight, pound the pavement or track in the fresh air with the mental stimulation of the scene around you constantly changing.  It distracts you and makes the time go faster, all the while burning those extra calories.

Breathing fresh instead of recycled air just feels better, it’s invigorating.  When you feel better you want to work harder.  Granted, some people thrive on the sights, sounds and smells of a gym.  But if that’s not you, consider ditching the gym and taking your workout outdoors.

It’s Better For Your Mood

The extra mood benefits of exercising outdoors are well documented.  A report published in Environmental Science and Technology found that after a 30-minute walk in the park, 71 percent of people felt less stressed, but after walking around indoors 72 percent of people actually felt more stressed.

Numerous other studies have shown a clear connection between spending time outdoors and reduction in stress.  People consistently report greater feelings of revitalization, energy and positive thinking, as well as anxiety reduction and improved alertness.

A study which analyzed 11 trials including more than 800 adults found that outdoor exercise was associated with increased energy and revitalization, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared with exercising indoors.  Outdoor participants reported enjoying their workouts more and said they were more likely to repeat them than participants who exercised inside.

This isn’t surprising because fresh air along with increased oxygen during exercise ups the release of the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin.  You’ll also experience higher levels of post-exercise endorphins.  So outdoor training sessions not only keep your body healthy, but your mind too.

Real vs. Artificial Muscle Movement

Everything you do in a gym is a simulation of a real movement.

Treadmills, stationary bikes and steppers only emulate the effects of covering distance.  They will never be as good as the real thing.  It’s been shown that one mile on a treadmill will burn 20% fewer calories than a real run.

Using a treadmill or stepper day in and day out uses the same muscles because machines produce the same movement pattern over and over again.  Outdoors, the incline and ground surface is always changing –  you might have to use your fast-twitch muscles to avoid a pothole or you slip on a stone and have to regain your balance.  It’s a real-life movement.

Whether running on a treadmill or using the leg press machine, the machine does some of the work.  Outside, it all comes from you.  Moving out of the controlled environment of the gym to the varied natural environment forces your body to adapt and this creates a more varied, intense workout.  For example, a strong headwind makes you work much harder to overcome the resistance.

There’s only so much you can do to change up your routine at the gym, artificially working the same sets of muscles.  Using the body’s natural movement patterns promotes greater muscle activation and core strength.

So why use a treadmill when you can pound a pavement or trail?  Why use a stepper when you can climb real steps?  And why use a stationary bike when you can jump on your real bike and take to the streets or bike track?

Varied Terrain

Your body needs to be constantly challenged or it adapts to the current training stimulus and stops getting results.  It knows what to expect from gym machines.  Simulation is never going to be as good.

Outdoor training teaches your body to adapt to a changing environment.  It uses different muscles to run on mud, concrete, gravel, to go up and down and hills, and jump to avoid obstacles.  These changing surface textures enhance the strength of connective tissue as your body must quickly respond and adapt.

Challenge your body to move in more varied, complex ways.  Whether you’re walking, running, biking, or swimming, the options are almost endless.  Hill sprints are an excellent fat burner.  Short, sharp bursts of movement at an incline will help push you to your limit while also building and toning muscle.

Boredom Prevention

Sick of staring at a brick wall doing the same old exercise routine?

Nothing is ever static outside.  A bird flies above you screeching or a flock of them swoops above you in perfect formation.  You hear a distant car horn blast or an ambulance siren and wonder where it’s coming from.  A leaf glides down in front of you or maybe a branch snaps off and you have to avoid it.  A dog runs out at you barking.  A brilliantly colored flower grabs your attention as you pass a well-manicured front garden.  You pass random strangers.  Yes, you can people-watch while working out.

All this adds up to you being mentally stimulated and never bored.  You’re too distracted to notice that quad burn and you’ve run much farther than you thought you could.

Vitamin D

When the sun hits our skin it creates vitamin D3, an essential nutrient important for bone health and metabolic function.  It’s immune-boosting and provides protection from osteoporosis, some cancers and heart disease.  You can’t get it from sun coming in through the gym window – you need direct exposure.

In addition, exposure to sunlight during the day can help you sleep better at night and increase endorphin production – more of those feel-good hormones!

Save Money

The cost of gym membership adds up.  Do you really need it when there are so many great outdoor workout options?  You can cut your fitness bill to almost nothing, also saving on travel time and gas.

If you can find a trail for some cardio and a clearing for some body weight or resistance band exercises, you can get a great full-body workout.  Think walking lunges, jump squats and step-ups onto a park bench or kerb for the lower body, and push-ups, pull-ups on monkey bars and triceps dips for upper body.

Avoid Germs

According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is two to five times more polluted that outdoor air. It only takes a whiff of stinky gym air to work that out for yourself!  The most dangerous bug you can catch at your gym is MRSA which is resistant to antibiotics and can cause rash, fever, wounds and chest pain.  Other infections include athlete’s foot, boils, herpes simplex and ringworm.  Of course, you can lower your chance of contracting these by good hygiene such as washing hands often, wiping down gym equipment before and after use.  Or just train outside.

Train Anytime

No waiting for the gym to open. No skipping on training because the gym is closed on a holiday.  Squeeze in a session when you only have half an hour to spare.

Outdoor Fitness is Easier to Stick With

Lacking motivation to stick with your gym routine?  Many studies have demonstrated people are more likely to stick with outdoor training programs than indoor ones.

The Bottom Line

Once you recognize the fantastic benefits of alfresco exercise, you won’t look back. There’s no doubt outdoor training is better for your fitness goals, mental health and bottom line. So get out there – nature is waiting for you!

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