No one has to remind us that exercise is important—it’s simply a given that staying active boosts your overall health and well-being. Like kale or regular flossing, it’s just one of those things that does …
Exercising Outside in the Warmer Months
No one has to remind us that exercise is important—it’s simply a given that staying active boosts your overall health and well-being. Like kale or regular flossing, it’s just one of those things that does a body good. But does it matter whether that exercise is taking place in the comfortable confines of your local gym, as opposed to the great outdoors?
The answer: probably. Most of the studies done regarding outdoor and indoor exercise seem to suggest that regular outdoor exercise (such as running, jogging, or cycling) has specific benefits over hitting the elliptical machine at the local gym or in the fitness room at your home or workplace.
Of course, you don’t have to choose one over the other—a healthy lifestyle can include various forms of exercise. But for those of us in colder climates, the gym may be the only option for a long, frosty stretch of winter months. However, once spring comes around and the sun pokes its head out of the clouds, the closest park begins to look much more appealing.
At PMR, we recognize the importance of comprehensive, holistic approaches to health and wellness. Ultimately, exercise is just one component of a healthy lifestyle—and everyone will exercise differently, according to their own preferences, needs, and abilities. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the benefits and considerations that apply to outdoor exercise.
Does It Even Matter?
There’s no question that pumping iron and running on the treadmill is a perfectly good means of improving and maintaining one’s physical health. So for those of us with a pre-established gym routine, is there any reason to take our fitness goals outside?
According to a number of studies, there are distinct physical benefits to exercising outside. As compared to a treadmill, for example, shifting terrain, downhill motions, and wind resistance all play a role in making outdoor exercise more difficult—and more beneficial for your body. Running outdoors may also benefit different muscle groups than running on a treadmill.
“Emerging science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle, or a track,” says Gretchen Reynolds, writing for the New York Times.
Have More Fun
Exercise can seem like a chore, but one of the great advantages of outdoor exercise is that it often seems just a little bit more fun. Though the gym is comfortable and probably air-conditioned, it just can’t compare to the sights, smells, and sunlight of a park or running trail.
In fact, research supports the idea that exercising outside can keep you motivated in ways that going to the gym cannot. According to multiple studies, people who exercise outside not only get more enjoyment out of their routines than those exercising indoors, but they also end up exercising more hours per week.
For Your Mental Health?
Research on outdoor exercise also points to a range of mental health benefits, from reduced depression to higher self-esteem to less fatigue and lowered levels of stress hormones. In other words, people who go outside for their workouts feel better throughout the day—and even sleep better.
Though exercising at a gym will also confer many of these benefits, the effect seems to be more pronounced with outdoor exercise, especially running. The reason for these benefits is not entirely known, but contributing factors probably include exposure to sunlight and the release of hormones during movement.
Soak Up the Sun
One of the great advantages of outdoor exercise is that, as long as you’re out there during the daylight, you’ll soak up plenty of sunrays. Exposure to sunlight has many health-boosting properties. It can help you to sleep better, affects hormones (i.e. endorphins), and helps your body to produce Vitamin D, which is necessary for health. (Keep in mind that there are some dangers to sun exposure as well—see below.)
If these many compelling reasons to move your routine from the gym mat to the path at the forest preserve aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps you should consider the possible cost benefits of leaving the gym for greener pastures. After all, that gym membership isn’t free, but public parks and trails certainly are. You may also be able to save a little simply by leaving your gym during the warmer months, as long as you haven’t signed a contract.
Always Keep It Safe
Exercising outdoors is a wonderful, healthy choice, and it’s usually a safe one, too. However, there are some dangers that you should consider. Perhaps the most important one is the sun, as overexposure to sunlight poses multiple health risks. Always wear sunscreen (at least 15 SPF), even if the weather isn’t sunny. Clothes that cover up more of your skin can also help.
Finally, make safe choices when exercising outside. This might mean only exercising during the day, or choosing to exercise in familiar public areas where you know you’ll be safe.
Whether it’s a supplement to your gym routine or a total replacement, choosing to exercise outdoors may be the best choice you make this summer. For more information on how exercise fits into a comprehensive health plan—and how to tailor your workout to your unique needs and abilities—contact us at PMR today!