Why You Should Take Your Exercise Routine Outside
Teaming up with Mother Nature can boost your motivation and your mood
Having trouble sticking with your fitness goals? Research says one simple change could make the difference: Take it outside.
Exercising outdoors helped women stick with a get-fit program and feel less depressed in a new study from the University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke in Quebec.
“Training outdoors brings a whole new dimension to being active,” noted lead researcher Isabelle Dionne, PhD, in a press release. Dionne organized the 12-week study after a graduate student noticed that women who got their exercise outside seemed happier. And while the experiment focused on out-of-shape, postmenopausal women, other studies suggest outdoor exercise has benefits for men and women of all ages. Why?
It feels easier. Several studies involving walkers and cyclists found that outdoor routines seem less difficult, though in fact you may be working harder to cover the same distance thanks to wind resistance and challenging terrain.
It’s distracting. The pretty sky, colorful leaves and chirping birds take your mind off the effort you’re expending, which increases your motivation, according to researchers at the United Kingdom’s University of Essex.
It’s relaxing. Being immersed in nature is proven to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boost your mood. It just feels good. Maybe that’s why a University of California San Diego study of 754 older women and men who joined an exercise program found that outdoor exercisers were active for about 50 percent longer than those who exercised indoors.
Tips for a safe and effective outdoor workout
Find just 20 minutes. That’s all the outdoor time volunteers needed to feel more energized in a University of Rochester study. "Nature is fuel for the soul," said researcher Richard Ryan, PhD, a professor of psychology at the university, in a press release. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature."
Try a mid-day nature break. In another University of Essex study, workers at a big corporation walked for 20 minutes in a park or indoors in their office building. After eight weeks, both groups of walkers had better blood pressure readings but only the outdoor group reported improved mental health.
Revive an outdoor activity you once enjoyed. It’s never too late to rekindle an old sports love. Join a local softball league, call your parks and recreation department for info on tennis groups or sign up for a hiking trip with a local club.
Invest in the right gear. Keep outdoor clothes and accessories on hand so you can head out at a moment’s notice regardless of the weather. A sun hat, rain coat, warm jacket, sneakers, water bottle, and comfortable clothes are all useful.
Stay safe. Walk with a buddy. Pay attention to your surroundings to avoid trips and falls. Skip headphones — you’re safer without them and will be more tuned-in to the sounds of nature. Drink water before and during outdoor exercise. Talk with your doctor first if you’re new to exercise or have health conditions or physical limitations. Opt for an indoor routine when it’s too hot or cold to exercise safely outdoors. If you have allergies or breathing problems, work out indoors when pollen counts are high or air quality is poor.
Related: Winter Running Safety
Can’t get out? Bring the outdoors in. Watch a nature show on TV or position yourself in front of a window with a lovely view while you work out. In a study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology, just viewing nature scenes boosted vitality. Another study showed kids had bigger blood pressure-lowering benefits when they watched a forest scene while riding exercise bikes.