Summer has arrived, so now is the perfect time to think about stepping out of the gym and get an outdoor workout in. Let’s go over six reasons why working out outdoors has its advantages.
If you have a little bit of space, you can do your outdoor workout just about anywhere. Thanks to the vast array of bodyweight exercises you can engage in, you can train anywhere from the beach to a park to your neighbourhood to a parking lot. You don’t need access to a gym and tons of fancy equipment. Push-ups, burpees, running, sprinting, and jumping are more than enough to get your heart rate up and help you break a sweat.
So, what exactly is so great about opting for an outdoor workout? Let’s explore just six reasons.
6 Reasons to Do an Outdoor Workout
1. The Air Quality Might Be Better
If you live somewhere with access to nearby parks, fields or even mountains, then an outdoor workout is a perfect way to breathe in some clean, fresh air. Not surprisingly, rural air quality is measurably better than that available in the city. This is partly due to the fact that in the countryside, trees, plants and other vegetation have an ability to absorb carbon dioxide. It’s not just that effect, though. The air in densely populated urban areas often has significant levels of small diesel particulates and heavy metals (1).
For example, Los Angeles, with its multiple freeways, is the one of the most polluted city in the United States (2), while Reykjavik, Iceland, is among the least polluted cities in the world.
In fact, a survey in 2011 published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reported that those living in the countryside in the UK have a longer life expectancy and lower risk of disease than those living in cities (3).
That being said, if you live in the middle of a busy global city (London, Beijing or LA, for example), is working out outdoors worse for your health than not exercising at all? A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventative Medicine identified that in most cases, running or cycling in “urban environments” resulted in overall benefits, despite the pollutant effects of city living.
In short, exercising outdoors outweighed the harm of not exercising at all (4). Unsurprisingly, there are large spikes in pollution during rush hour traffic. Pollution levels generally fall during the late evening and at night. As well as avoiding the dangers of busy city streets, a midnight run might be better for your health than a midday one.
2. An Outdoor Workout Can Support Your Mental Well-Being
As well as reducing stress levels, research led by Glasgow University’s Professor Richard Mitchell found that exercising outdoors, which includes anything from a walk in the park to a run through a forest, can have a positive effect on people suffering from depression or anxiety (5). The research showed that the positive effect on people’s mental health was 50% more than if they worked out indoors (6).
The Glasgow University researchers also looked at natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, including walking, running and cycling, and found that being around trees and grass lowered brain stress levels. A review published in Environmental Science and Technology looked at the effects of exercising outdoors, measuring a number of different parameters, one of which was mental well-being.
It took the results from many different pieces of research. Most showed that working out outdoors was beneficial for your mental health (7). So, if you’re stressed with work or have exams coming up, try to get outside and become familiar once again with nature.
3. Your Vitamin D Levels Could Get a Nice (and Much-Needed) Boost
Without doubt, one of the best parts of an outdoor workout is getting free vitamin D. If you work out outside during the summer months, as long as you are not too far north, many people are able to synthesize a good amount of vitamin D through skin exposure, reducing the demand for supplementation during the summer.
That being said, you need very consistent skin exposure to maximize the synthesis of optimum levels of vitamin D. And this, of course, needs to be balanced alongside the risks of spending too much time in the sun. If you’re at all concerned about exposing your skin to the sun, or alternatively, if you like sunbathing but don’t have the opportunity on sunny days, then it’s a good idea to use a vitamin D supplement.
4. You Can Save Money
Of course, one of the simplest reasons to get outdoors and exercise is that it’s free. That’s something we can all appreciate. There’s no gym membership, no coaching fees, nothing. All you need is a pair of trainers and some suitable clothes to work out in. Think of the money you’ll save. Gym memberships can add up to be hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year.
5. Your Eye Health Might Improve
Exercising outdoors may have some unique and unexpected effects on your eyes. Most of us spend the working day staring at a computer screen or reading documents. As a result, the incidence of myopia, short-sightedness, is ever increasing. Actually, in the US and Europe, nearly a third of children between the ages of seven and 17 need glasses to see properly. In some Asian countries, the figure is even higher (8).
What is interesting, though, is that young people who spend more time outdoors are less likely to suffer from short-sightedness. This is reportedly due to the increased visual stimulation, especially from focusing on far away objects and increased exposure to natural light. In one study, children who spent more time outside were 23% less likely to develop myopia (9). If you want to protect your eyes and potentially avoid short-sightedness, get outside!
6. Exercising Outdoors Can Be Good for Your Self-Esteem
Couldn’t we all use a little boost in confidence? It turns out that an outdoor workout could be just what you need. Research published in ABC Science says that “green activities” like walking, cycling and even gardening can improve self-esteem. Even just five minutes leads to a noticeable difference.
While anywhere outdoors can have a positive impact on self-esteem, somewhere green — potentially with water nearby — is especially beneficial.
Now that you know the benefits of an outdoor workout, what kind of exercise do you have planned?
- “Composition and sources of fine particulate matter across urban and rural sites in the Midwestern United States” Kundu, S; Stone, E. A. 2014
- “Most Polluted Cities.” American Lung Association. 2015.
- “Variations in life expectancy between rural and urban areas of England, 2001-07” Kyte, Lynsey, and Claudia Wells. 2010
- “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?” Tainio, Marko, et al. 2016.
- “More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns.” Thompson, Catharine Ward, et al. 2012.
- “Is physical activity in natural environments better for mental health than physical activity in other environments?” Mitchell, Richard. 2013.
- “Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review.” Thompson Coon, J, et al. 2011.
- “Race, culture and myopia in 110,236 young Singaporean males.” Tong, Au, et al. 1993.
- “Effect of time spent outdoors at school on the development of myopia among children in China: a randomized clinical trial.” He, Mingguang, et al. 2015