The allure of hitting the gym on cold days is undeniable. On winter mornings, a temperature-controlled environment in a convenient and predictable location is impossible to resist. When it’s too cold and windy for even the best gear to keep, the refuge of an indoor workout is perfectly reasonable. In fact, you can argue that hitting the treadmill in wild conditions is the only reasonable thing to do.
While the gym may be cozy and comfortable, recent studies suggest that there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a stationary bicycle or the elliptical.
For you runners out there, treadmill running changes your stride and limits the movement of certain joints needed for running. studies show that people have more ankle flex when running outside rather than they do on a treadmill. Increased ankle flex allows for a softer landing, which reduces impact. Downhill running stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain. Outside, that movement’s unavoidable, but it’s hard to simulate indoors on the hamster wheel.
Outdoor exercise is often more strenuous and taxing than its indoor counterpart. In studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill vs. running outdoors, treadmill runners expended less energy. The controlled environment of the gym doesn’t provide the subtle changes in terrain or wind resistance of running outdoors. A similar study showed that cycling outdoors rather than spending an hour on the trainer can expend up to 25 percent more energy. So if your goals are burning calories or making fitness gains, outdoor exercise wins everytime.
But more importantly, outdoor exercise is an advantage for your mental health. In recent research, volunteers were asked to go for two walks for the amount of same time or distance, one inside on a treadmill, the other outdoors. The participants enjoyed walking outdoors more than on a treadmill in virtually every study. On the psychological tests following the exercise, outdoor activity created more vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem while reducing tension, depression and fatigue.
Another study suggests that exercising outside in nature boosts mental health quickly and dramatically. Researchers reviewed ten studies encompassing more than 1,200 people involved in outdoor activities such as cycling, walking, horseback riding and fishing. They found that exercise performed outdoors, which they called “green exercise,” improves people’s mood and self-esteem. Moreover, participants in their early adolescent to teenage years enjoyed more significant improvements in self-esteem than other age groups, and the improvements to self-confidence lasted into their early adulthood. In other words, kids who were exposed to outdoor activity in their formative years were far more likely to have high self-esteem, and were more likely to continue an active lifestyle later in life.
You need exercise for a healthy and happy life. And it seems that going outside helps us enjoy the exercise we need. Whether we realize it or not, we crave the outdoors. And if getting outside is the answer to get people moving, it’s a good thing.