Carioca Flickr 11-18-10Is there a difference between exercising indoors and exercising outside?

The sunshine, the fresh air, the breeze blowing through your hair…does all of this really affect outdoor workouts?

The answer on both accounts is yes! When we’re outside, embracing God’s wonderful creation, the mental and physical health benefits obtained are far greater than what’s achieved by exercising indoors.

Data from a 2008 Scottish Health Survey revealed that heading outdoors for exercise can boost one’s mood about fifty percent more than staying indoors! Sunshine and clean air invigorate us, while nature sounds, like running water, calm us.  Exercising outside provides an escape from  florescent lighting and overcrowded weight/cardio rooms. Moreover, if you suffer from mild depression or anxiety, getting outside every day can improve your mood and outlook on life. I for one can attest to the fact that when working indoors all day, even a few minutes in nature can clear my mind and help me focus.

Getting outside can also provide the body the opportunity to make one of the most important vitamins, vitamin D.  While skin doctors and dietitians debate on whether sunscreen should be worn at all times, it is certain that sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. For now, the recommendation for sun exposure is 10-15 minutes daily which would be a short walk of a mile or so. If you can find a path with both shade and sunlight, you’ll receive the benefits provided by both the sun (vitamin D) and trees (an extra oxygen boost). Personally, I’m  blessed to have such a place close by. You might be surprised by the outdoor opportunities available near you.  It can be easy to take for granted the beauty we have in our own backyards!

Sure, there might be a few drawbacks to exercising outside (for example, if you’re like me, you might encounter a few bugs or dogs on the trail), but the pros easily outweigh the cons. Exercising outdoors is particularly helpful if you are planning to run a race as a motivating fitness goal.  After all, races are usually outdoors, and it’s always best to train on the terrain that you will be racing on. Thanks to wind resistance and varied inclines, running outdoors requires more effort (therefore brining more reward) than running on a treadmill. Also, although treadmills have an incline function, they can’t perfectly simulate the workout provided by running on real terrain.

Your body also needs to adjust to the outdoor weather you’ll experience on race day. If your race is in July, your body will need to be accustomed to sweating and dealing with humidity (depending on the area you live in). If you are running a race where you need to refuel and hydrate, practice is essential. Will you carry your water? Will you use an armband? Will you use a fuel belt? You can’t adequately determine these needs on a treadmill, in a climate-controlled area with your water and food easily resting in front of you.

Perhaps the most promising benefit of exercising outdoors, however, is that you’ll be more likely to keep up with your workout routine!  Research indicates that outdoor exercise tends to be more sustainable and motivational than exercising in a gym.  That alone is reason to get out and experience the natural world.

Evidence suggests that the best exercise environment is one with a lot of grass and trees, so make an effort to find your own oasis in which to move. While there are definitely benefits to having a place to exercise indoors, it is clear that when the weather is right, heading outside for some good, free, invigorating movement in the best option for LIFE!

References: Scottish Health Survey Analysis, Treadmill vs. Overground Running, “Vitalizing Effects of Being Outdoors in Nature”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

Originally posted 2013-08-28 09:01:09.

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