Revitalize Your Fitness Routine: 8 Reasons to Embrace Outdoor Workouts

Tap into the Energizing Blend of Nature, Vitamin D, and Unlimited Possibilities

<p>Getty Images / Jordan Siemens</p>

Getty Images / Jordan Siemens

Reviewed by Kristin McGee, CPT

Getting stuck in the same indoor workout routine is easy to do. But a repetitive exercise regimen can cause your body to plateau, and strength and cardio gains will then become harder to achieve. While working out indoors can be helpful due to inclement weather or convenience, it can get boring. To shake up your workout and get fresh air at the same time, explore the outdoors.

Not only are there numerous benefits to outside exercise, but being outdoors may help you better accomplish your health and fitness goals. Whether you are looking to improve your cardiovascular health, build muscle, or get a little extra vitamin D, here are eight reasons to take your workout outside.

Boost Your Mood

Multiple studies have established that exercise has a positive impact on mood and happiness. In fact, it has been linked to reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and a greater feeling of overall happiness. But, there is also evidence that doing that exercise outdoors may have an even greater impact.

According to a review in Psychiatry International, researchers discovered that moderate physical activity outdoors while exposed to sunlight or greenery was a significant factor in boosting mental health. Exercising outdoors also can be an important factor in managing mood disorders.

If you are wondering just how much physical activity you need, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, preferably spread throughout the week. For the fitness enthusiast, you can gain even more benefits by being active for at least 300 minutes per week. Here are some examples of moderate physical activity that can be done outside.

  • Walk around your neighborhood at a rate of at least 2.5 miles per hour.

  • Garden, which depending on your location, can be conducted year-round.

  • Play tennis, which can be done in pairs for greater social interaction.

  • Spend time cycling around your community.

Related:The Best Outdoor Workout Gear of 2023

Reduce Stress Levels

Exercising in the open air and among the elements can reduce symptoms of anxiety, anxiousness, and even loneliness. Being outside—even if you are alone—can help you feel as though you are part of the world around you.

In a study on the levels of nature and stress response, researchers gathered data on stress levels from three different environments: a municipal-type park, an indoor exercise facility in an urban locale, and a natural site. Biophysical markers (for example, cortisol and amylase) and psychological measurements were taken before and after visits to all three locations.

Researchers found that visiting natural environments had the most positive impact on reducing physical and psychological stress when compared to the other two locations. In fact, participants visiting the natural environment reported significantly lower levels of stress than when they visited the other two options. 

Related:Exercise: The Best Stress Relief

Experience a Variety of Terrain

Walking on uneven terrain, running uphill and over rocks, or performing bodyweight exercises on a local track challenges different muscle groups, facilitates strength building, and creates better balance and coordination. Options for mixing up the outdoor terrain include the following:

  • Mountain biking on local trails targets a specific set of muscles such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

  • Hiking on local trails can provide immediate health benefits, such as better immune system functioning, restored attention, decreased blood pressure, and lowered stress levels, according to a review article on hiking from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

  • Running is another option and is one of the least expensive sports to do. You do not need any—other than a good pair of running shoes—which may explain its popularity. For variety on where to run, look for universities and high schools often open their track for public use or trails, allowing you to run on surfaces that are friendlier to your knees than asphalt or concrete sidewalks.

Save Money

Exercising outside can also provide a budget-friendly way to stay fit. Gym registrations and their respective membership fees can add up in price. However, to go outside and exercise, all you need are a good pair of athletic shoes and comfortable fitness apparel that works for the weather.

You can also take advantage of ready-made equipment for circuit training, such as playground equipment at a local school or park, says athlete and former personal trainer, Lisa Howard, CPT-ACSM. Some examples include running tires, doing pull-ups, and practicing chin-ups on the monkey bars. You can even use the swings for suspension exercises like TRX systems, Howard says. 

Related:The Best Outdoor Workout Gear of 2023

Engage Socially

Being outdoors provides opportunities for social interaction and a supportive network. You could join a group or participate in outdoor fitness classes to help you build a sense of community and hold you accountable.

The social aspect also helps with mental health issues. Researchers in a study on outdoor physical activity and social connectedness found that green spaces were an ideal setting to address critical health concerns such as mental health conditions, obesity concerns, and anxiety.

Related:Best Ways to Make Exercise Social

Increase Enjoyment

Conquering a lengthy mountain biking route or coming back to your car after enduring an extended hike can cause feelings of immense enjoyment and fulfillment, which acts as a potent incentive to continue with physical activity. In a study examining motivations for adhering to exercise outdoors, researchers found that simple enjoyment was the most significant motivator for any type of green exercise.

Related:5 Fun Workout Ideas for Spring

Stave Off Illness

In enclosed environments like gyms, germs can be rampant, especially if people do not bother to clean their machines. This allows bacteria to jump from one person to another quite easily. Simply moving your workout outside can give you fresh air much freer from potential maladies.

Plus exercising outdoors, allows you the opportunity to work out even when you are a little under the weather, says Cedrina L. Calder, MD. “Exercising outdoors or in places where there are not a lot of people [helps] to avoid passing your illness to others."

To stay as healthy as possible when working out in natural environments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

  • Use insect repellent after sunscreen. After you come inside, be sure to check your clothing and body for ticks.

  • Keep cool when the heat gets extreme. Avoid exercising in hot weather as you could develop any number of heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration, hyponatremia, or sunstroke.

  • Drink water instead of sugary beverages to help stay hydrated. 

Related:Should You Exercise When You Are Sick?

Get a Dose of Vitamin D

Sunlight can provide you with vitamin D, an essential vitamin for healthy bones and a strong immune system. In fact, an article from Photochemistry and Photobiology indicates that sunshine is the most important source of vitamin D.

How does this work? The sun’s ultraviolet light forms vitamin D in the skin. It is transported to the liver and converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D (a bone density conservation agent). Your body converts this form of vitamin D (also known as calcidiol) into calcitriol to be used by the intestines, bones, kidneys, and immune system.

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