There is no debating the health benefits of physical fitness. Getting regular exercise helps prevent heart disease and other chronic illness, improves mood, reduces stress, improves sleep, and more. In order for adults to reap those benefits, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
That time commitment may seem like a tall order in your busy life. But the good news is that you don’t have to book sessions in a gym to get in shape. Outdoor exercises are just as effective as indoor ones, can be more fun, and have some other appealing advantages.
Working Out Outside Comes With Perks for the Body and Mind
Outdoor fitness can be a structured exercise program that takes advantage of natural terrain to get you in shape, or it can be as simple as a brisk walk around the block. Outdoor fitness comes in many forms: Light gardening or other yard work, for example, is considered moderate physical activity, and a 154-pound man can burn approximately 330 calories in an hour doing it, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Whichever way you choose to exercise outside, there are numerous benefits:
- A harder workout When you’re active outdoors — whether you’re running on the beach or hiking up a mountain — your body is encountering a constantly changing environment. To keep up the activity at a consistent pace, you need to adapt to all those minute changes in your surroundings (such as slight inclines, bumps, or obstacles you may need to dodge), which means your body works harder than if you were running on a treadmill or using a stair machine, according to the American Council on Exercise.
- No membership fees The outdoors belongs to all of us. “You don’t need any special equipment — the outdoors is available wherever you are, just outside your door,” says Tina Vindum, a faculty member of the American Council on Exercise and the author of Tina Vindum’s Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym Into the Best Shape of Your Life.
- Cleaner air According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air even in large cities and metropolitan areas.
- A free daily dose of D Outdoor exercise is a way to get your vitamin D through sunlight. This is especially important if you are overweight, as research suggests that people who are overweight are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D.
- Exercise for your mind “When you exercise outdoors, your mind is aware of the changing terrain. Whether you use the hills, the sand on a beach, or a winding path, your mind has to focus differently than it would on a flat gym floor,” notes Vindum. And research suggests the effect of exercise on the mind tends to favor a positive direction. Several studies, including one published in Environmental Science and Technology in 2011, suggest exercise outdoors benefited mental well-being more than the same type of exercise inside.
Here’s How to Get Started if You Want to Take Your Exercise Routine Outside
If you have any health issues, talk to your doctor before starting an outdoor fitness program, and ask any questions you have about upping the intensity of your fitness routine or jumping back into fitness if you’ve been inactive for a while.
And then ease into it, Vindum says. “I tell people to have a goal in mind, start slowly, and work up to their potential. Outdoor exercise can be adapted to anyone’s level of fitness.” Here are some tips to get you going.
- Exercise early. “People can always find more excuses to avoid exercising outdoors at the end of the day,” says Vindum. In the morning your energy is higher, the air is generally cleaner, the temperature tends to be lower, and you’ll get to feel the post-workout benefits (less stress and a better mood) all day long.
- Avoid temperature extremes. Although your body can adapt to colder or warmer weather, you should avoid exercising outside in extreme heat or cold. And in warmer temps, watch for signs of overheating, including headache, dizziness, nausea, faintness, cramping, or palpitations, according to information from Harvard Medical School.
- Don’t get burned. Although some sun is good for you, too much sun is not. “Always protect yourself with a good sunscreen, and wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim,” advises Vindum.
- Drink enough water. “If you drink about 8 to 10 ounces of water 30 minutes before exercising outdoors, it should hydrate you sufficiently for a 30-minute workout. You don’t need water with electrolytes in most cases,” says Vindum. Remember that you can lose water through sweating, though — even in cooler weather. And you may start to get dehydrated before you feel thirsty.
- Get some good gear. “Take advantage of the new technology in waterproof, breathable clothing material,” advises Vindum. The right gear lets you feel good in any type of weather.
- Make outdoor exercises part of your lifestyle. “You can learn exercises that use only body weight and gravity and do them while you are walking to the post office,” Vindum says. Think about walking instead of driving. Plan outdoor activities with your family. Go for a hike instead of a drive.
“Why would you need bottled aromatherapy when you can go outside and smell nature? Outside exercise uses all your senses and connects your body and mind,” Vindum says. “It can be a life-changing experience.”