By now, you are more than aware of the benefits of exercise—the energy boost, the better sleep, the help fighting off certain health conditions. But what you may not realize is where you decide to exercise can completely revolutionize your fitness routine. Seriously.
Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about frequenting a trendy new gym or shelling out hundreds on the next SoulCycle competitor. To find one of the best workout spots in your area, you just have to look outside your window.
Exercising outdoors comes with a host of scientifically-proven benefits, challenging your mind and body in equal measure. And let’s not forget the positive impact spending time outdoors has on your mental health. Or, you know, the fact that outdoor exercise doesn’t require a gym membership you’ll never, ever be able to cancel.
Need more convincing to give “green exercise” a shot? Read on to educate yourself on the proven benefits of outdoor exercise.
1. Exercising outdoors could help boost your mental health.
Mental health is an essential pillar of overall fitness—and exercising outdoors could help boost your overall state of mind. According to a 2021 study of more than 20,000 people, those who “exercise more, specifically when they embark on physical activities outdoors, experience less depression and anxiety than those who [don’t] exercise.” Another 2021 analysis of 14,231 records and 50 studies on the effects of outdoor activities found participating in “nature-based interventions”—including gardening, outdoor exercise, and nature-based therapy—for 20 to 90 minutes a day for several weeks “improved mental health outcomes in adults, including those with pre-existing mental health problems.”
2. The benefits of outdoor exercise provides unique challenges for your body.
Exercising outdoors means encountering a constantly changing environment, keeping your body engaged and challenged. According to the American Council on Exercise, “the more challenging the terrain, the harder the body has to work to sustain an efficient work rate.” Basically, this means walking, hiking, or running on changing terrain (including winding paths, sandy beaches, or even just hilly roads) gives your body a harder workout than using an exercise machine. And that’s all not to mention the fitness challenges (and resulting benefits) of wind resistance and changing temperatures.
3. Outdoor exercise may actually lower your risk of injury.
When you exercise on a machine, you are doing repetitive motion that works out the same muscles in the same way, which can possibly lead to overuse injury, according to the American Council on Exercise. With outdoor exercise, the constantly changing terrain works out different muscles in different ways which can “enhance the strength of your connective tissue, which may help you avoid certain injuries,” the council advises.
4. You’ll breathe fresher air.
And that’s true even if you live in a metropolitan city. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality indoors is often more seriously polluted than the air outdoors, even in the largest and most industrialized cities. And face it, the outdoor air smells better than that sweaty gym anyway.
5. Outdoor exercise actually challenges your mind.
Navigating tough terrain and being surrounded by outdoor stimuli can work out more than just your body. Experts say the natural challenges of outdoor exercise can put your mind to work, helping you stay focused and present during your exercise. You’ll still get in the zone, but your brain will get a workout too.
6. Exercising outdoors may make your workout seem quicker and less demanding.
A 2017 study found that participants got more enjoyment out of outdoor exercise (in this case, hiking) than indoor exercise (in this case, walking on a treadmill). According to the researchers, outdoor exercise resulted in participants feeling less fatigued, more energized, and more positive about their workout experience overall. A 2013 analysis of various “green exercise” studies also found that exercising outdoors “reduces perceived effort and allows individuals to work at higher workloads, which may help increase the amount of physical activity undertaken and motivation to continue.”
7. Your immune system may get a much-needed boost.
Sure, getting a good dose of sunlight is important for maintaining a healthy level of vitamin D—and outdoor exercise certainly provides that. But that’s not all. Some studies suggest breathing in phytoncides—or airborne plant chemicals—can actually improve your body’s immune responses by 50 percent or more. Just more reason to breathe deep.
8. Simply put, it’s free.
Forget gym memberships or costly at-home exercise equipment. Working out in the great outdoors via hiking, running, walking, or even gardening is completely free. As if you need more reason than that to give it a shot.