Outdoor exercise seems to be a divisive topic. People either love it and are dedicated hardcore outdoor exercisers, or they hate it and will only train in an air-conditioned gym.
Outdoor exercise has been called “green exercise.” Research seems to indicate that it combines two things which are known to be health affirming: movement... and the outdoors. Here are four reasons why we think it’s worth considering it, at least some of the time.
REASON 1. MOOD ENHANCING
For many people, exercise - whether in the gym or outside - is the primary way they regulate their mental wellbeing and emotional health. The benefits to their physical health are just a bonus. Reducing depression, alleviating anxiety and general mood improvements are all side effects of outdoor exercise. Research from 2010 into the impact of green spaces on mental health showed a clear link between moving around outdoors that sets you up to be in a great mood. Exercise itself is brilliant, but couple that with fresh air and sunshine and you’ve got a magic recipe. It doesn’t need to be super intense; even a short 15-minute walk is beneficial. Anything that puts you in a better mood than when you started can only be a good thing.
REASON 2. VITAMIN D PRODUCTION
Vitamin D is essential for strong and healthy bones. Getting enough Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphate from your diet. These minerals are vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Most of the Vitamin D your body makes comes from direct exposure to sunlight. You can get a small amount of Vitamin D from oily fish, red meat and eggs (or if your diet doesn’t contain these foods, from supplementation). When you combine outdoor activities with a healthy balanced diet rich in protein, you are helping your body to get adequate levels of Vitamin D to keep your bones dense and healthy. A deficiency is marked by physical symptoms such as muscle weakness, aches and cramps, pain in bones and at joints, a general sense of fatigue and emotional unpredictability and mood alterations, such as depression. Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be more common in populations which are overweight.
REASON 3. INCREASED SELF-ESTEEM
Exercise alone has a positive impact on self-esteem. Still, when that exercise is outdoors, that seems to have even more significant benefits. Getting outside to exercise in any capacity can improve your self-esteem. Nevertheless, if you can be around water or greenery, the effect is even more pronounced. So does it have to be extreme, high-intensity obstacle course races through the forest in which you’re dunked in freezing water? Quite the opposite. The most noticeable improvements come from low- to moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking or jogging). Cycling, fishing and gardening all contribute to positive self-esteem, as does being around animals. Go walk the dog or ride the horse.
REASON 4. LOW (NO) COST & EASY ACCESS
Many people have put off the idea of joining a gym for lots of reasons. It can be expensive, and maybe your budget doesn’t extend to that right now. It has limited opening hours and possibly your work or lifestyle make it difficult for you to get there. Or maybe you feel like you spend enough time indoors without adding another hour of the gym into the day. Making exercise part of your routine need not be subject to finances though, with outdoor exercise being available to everyone for free! This could be the lowest possible barrier to entry, with so many options available such as walking, running or hiking. You can also find low-cost options such as outdoor fitness classes, if you’d prefer something more structured. You can take a look at what options are available in your area by browsing Google or social media platforms for ideas.
Exercising outdoors isn’t intended to replace your gym membership. Some things are most easily done in the gym, such as resistance training with cables or free weights. But that doesn’t have to be the only exercise you get - the gym and outdoor exercise options can work together and complement each other. If outdoor exercise is for you, be careful to avoid extreme temperatures by getting outside early in the morning before the sun gets too hot and you risk getting burned. Remember to take water with you if you’re out for more than 30 minutes (300ml of water should be enough to hydrate you for 30 minutes of exercise).