Standard gyms have a whole heap of benefits. In a single place, you can conveniently access everything you need for a great workout ranging from weights to cardio equipment to stretch areas.
...and, of course, don’t forget that glorious air-con to keep you cool during a sweaty session!
There are, however, a few reasons to leave the comfort of your local gym and, instead, step outside into the world of outdoor exercise.
Here’s why you should ditch the gym on occasion
There are two stand-out reasons to move your exercise out of the gym and into the wild. They are:
Something as simple as a jog around your neighbourhood or as gruelling as a hike to the top of a mountain can be more challenging for your body that running on the treadmill or using a weight machine in the gym.
This challenge is presented by the environment you’re in where, instead of the ground being level, consistent and stable, you’re now faced with having to adjust to the slope of the road, with stepping onto pavements, uneven surfaces, or having to scramble up rocky sections of the trail, all of which have your body needing to adapt in even the smallest of ways to cope with these changes1.
The environmental variability can strengthen your joints, work your muscles in different ways and be more challenging for the body overall when compared to a routine gym workout. In contrast, constantly using the same machines at the gym can leave you at risk of an overuse injury.
There’s evidence to suggest that being outside and working up a sweat offers greater feelings of revitalisation, delivers lasting energy and has higher levels of health benefits compared to exercising indoors - particularly for mental health2-7.
A study published by the Environmental Science & Technology journal set out to compare the impact of outdoor vs indoor exercise on both mental and physical wellbeing, health-related quality of life and long-term adherence to physical activity.
The conclusion? Those who exercised outdoors had a far more significant effect on feelings of engagement, positivity, and increased energy, while also demonstrating decreased tension, confusion, anger and depression. And, these results have been supported across a number of studies2-7!
So, why does being outside make such a big difference?
One of the reasons may be due to increased exposure to sunshine, which helps the body to get increased levels of vitamin D. Research has found that those who don’t take part in physical activity and who are more likely to be obese, have lower levels of vitamin D in their system, which is also associated with negative effects on mental health8.
If you like the sound of this, there’s one more great reason to spend more time taking part in an outdoor exercise routine: your wallet.
Your gym membership has you paying for all of that expensive equipment you may or may not use. However, when you take to the outdoors, your workout is completely free.
The outdoors really provides a fantastic opportunity to get some fresh air, feel the ground beneath your feet and get in touch with nature.
So, how do you get started? Let’s discuss some simple types of exercises you can do outdoors!
Four ways to make the most of outdoor exercises
You don’t need equipment to do weight training, your body will do just fine! Find a circuit-type, body weight routine and do it outside under a tree instead of inside the gym. This type of routine can include push ups, planks, squats, high knees and more!
Top tip: Bring a yoga mat along if you need to get onto your hands, knees and back during the routine.
Whether it’s along a trail, the waterfront or through the city, the sights and sounds can keep your mind occupied, which can help to calm the mind and keep you running for longer!
Top tip: Map out a route before you set out, but include options to either extend or shorten it; you may want to run for longer, or shorter than you initially planned.
Hiking may seem like a low intensity activity, but it can be great to build strength in some of the body’s largest muscles, namely the glutes in your bottom and quads in your thighs.
Top tip: Remember to pack a hat, sunblock and plasters while you’re building that booty!
Turn exercise into a family/friend affair and kick a ball around, throw some hoops or dust the frisbee off. As long as you’re moving, it counts as exercise.
Top tip: Join a community team that plays outdoors a couple of times a week to keep your outdoor games scheduled into your routine!
With all of this being said, any exercise is better than none.
Getting outside is great - but, if it’s a rainy day and you swap your hike for a home workout, you still deserve a pat on the back and you can hit the trails another day!
But, be warned, once you feel the physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors - you may find yourself in the jungle more often than the gym!
- Brown, K. The haptic pleasures of ground-feel: The role of textured terrain in motivating regular exercise. Health and Place. 2017. 46:307-314
- Coon, J., et al. 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. Environmental Science & Technology. 2011. 45(5):1761-1772.
- Barton, J., & Pretty, J. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology. 2010. 44(10):3947–3955.
- Barton, J., et al. Green exercise for health. A dose of nature. Routledge, London and New York. 2016. 26-36
- Bamberg, J., et al. Enriching green exercise research. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2018. 178:270-275.
- Akeres, A., et al. Visual color perception in green exercise: Positive effects on mood and perceived exertion. Environmental Science and Technology. 2012. 46(16):8661-8666.
- Barton, J., et al. Green exercise: Linking nature, health and well-being. Routledge, London and New York. 2016.
- Kerr, D., et al. Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry Research. 2015. 227(1):46-51.