Outdoor exercise — sometimes called green exercise — provides an array of benefits beyond those seen with traditional indoor workouts. It sounds a bit fantastical, but it’s true: Performing a workout outside yields benefits beyond what you would experience by completing that same workout indoors.
One simple example: Exercising outdoors increases our exposure to sunlight, enhancing vitamin D production, which has been linked to improving mood, promoting bone health, boosting immune system function and reducing inflammation.
This past year has pushed us to get creative when finding ways to stay active. Gyms and other fitness facilities were closed, and there was a collective need to simply get out of our homes, even if only for an hour or two each day. Personal trainers and other exercise professionals adapted their programming and services to meet these changing needs.
That said, there’s no reason to move all of our workouts back inside, even as restrictions are lifted. In fact, the American Council on Exercise — along with our 90,000-plus certified professionals — has initiated a year-long, national campaign called Moving Together Outside. The campaign aims to generate support for eliminating barriers in order to use parks, school grounds and other public outdoor spaces for physical-activity and exercise programs and experiences that are organized or led by qualified exercise professionals or organizations for members of their communities.
Benefits of Exercising Outdoors
Consider the following six benefits of doing your workouts outdoors:
It makes you happy.
The first, and perhaps most important benefit, is that being in nature boosts feelings of well-being and life satisfaction. In fact, simply being outside and breathing fresh air has been shown to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. Research shows that being in nature, also called forest bathing, reduces stress and enhances relaxation.
Exercising, particularly outdoors, drives tremendous mental health benefits, ranging from reducing depression and anxiety to enhancing self-esteem and mood. Combine that with the physiological benefits of exercise, and you’ll see greater levels of joy in your life.
You’ll challenge your body and mind in new ways.
Being physically active in an environment with changing terrain forces your body to work hard to sustain the movement and your mind to stay focused to constantly adapt and avoid injury. Think about walking on your treadmill at home or in the gym compared to hiking on a trail with rocks and roots to traverse and constant changes in elevation to push your cardiovascular system.
There are many benefits of working with an exercise professional in a gym or fitness facility, but adding outdoor exercise to your regimen is a great way to save money while introducing cross training, which entails doing different types of workouts on a regular basis to drive a range of benefits. For example, you can rotate between activities such as biking, jogging, hiking and playing tennis.
It’s social and enhances accountability.
Whether you’ve promised your spouse or children that you’ll join them at the park for some family fun, joined a recreational sports league or have a standing date to meet some friends at a local trailhead every Saturday, you’ve added two vital elements to your exercise program: social support and accountability. Both of these are vital to long-term participation.
[Read: 5 Realistic Fitness Goals.]
It can be more enjoyable.
Believe it or not, enjoying your workouts, especially if you’re somewhat new to regular exercise, is an essential element of success. If you can find physical activities that you can have fun doing while burning calories and getting stronger, you’ve hit the jackpot in terms of exercise adherence. It’s often said, “the best type of exercise is the one you’ll do most often.”
It doesn’t take a lot of time to see the benefits.
It’s important to note that the benefits of outdoor exercise start accruing at 120 minutes per week — and you don’t have to be chugging up and down hills at top speed to see results. You can reach that goal with a 25-minute walk every day at lunchtime or a single two-hour hike on the weekend. More time spent exercising outside beyond those 120 minutes will yield more benefits, but that’s a great initial goal for most people.
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