Whether you genuinely love hitting the gym, or you loathe exercise in all of its forms, we all know the benefits of working out are indisputable. Exercise helps prevent a slew of physical ailments like diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and even poor posture. On top of that, exercise boosts sex drive, helps with concentration, and has proven so beneficial at alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression that it's basically free medicine. That said, not all exercise regimens are created equal: evidently, where you choose to exercise is the one weird factor that could be affecting your workouts. According to recent studies, regularly exercising outdoors boosts vitality, and apparently, it's actually much easier to stick to an exercise routine if you exercise outside.
Of course, much of this depends on where you live. Many of the benefits of taking your workout outside rather than hitting the gym are directly related to sun exposure, what kind of scenery you're working with, and what time of year it is. For example, if you live in Los Angeles, it might be sunny, but exercising outdoors might do you more harm than good, depending on your air quality that day. Weather makes a difference, too. (Personally, if exercising outdoors was my only workout option during the winter, I probably wouldn't workout from December until March.)
That said, however you feel about working out, and however you feel about nature, it's important to note that where you exercise can weirdly affect your workout. Here are five ways location can impact your workout.
1. Exercising Outdoors Makes You Want To Work Out Longer & More Frequently
A 2012 study of older adults found that people who exercise outside tend to exercise for longer periods of time than those who exercise in a gym. The study was conducted on adults aged 66 and up, and it spanned from 2005 to 2008. Each subject of the study was gifted gadgets to measure their activity levels, and as it turned out, the participants who exercised outdoors did so for longer stretches of time and with more frequency.
Though I'm quite a few years from 66, I'd venture from my personal experience that working out outdoors makes young adults want to exercise longer, too. When I exercise outdoors, I don't want it to stop. Outdoor yoga, long walks, and vigorous hikes are just way more stimulating than logging my obligatory 30 minutes of elliptical time before strength training next to dudes who, evidently, are incapable of completing a single rep without grunting super loud.
2. Outdoor Cardio Builds Stronger Muscles Than A Treadmill Or An Elliptical Can
Whether you like to walk, jog, or run, doing it outdoors will work your muscles much harder than doing it on a treadmill or an elliptical will. When you do your cardio on a machine, the machine does a lot of the work for you.
Wind resistance alone can increase your workload from two to 10 percent if you choose to run outdoors instead of running on a treadmill. Additionally, walking and running outdoors makes the muscles in your legs and feet work harder, and ultimately become stronger, because the ground (or the street) offers you more resistance than a machine can.
3. Exercising Outdoors Might Be Better For Your Self-Esteem
Exercising in general has been proven to boost self-confidence, but exercising outdoors could potentially raise self-esteem even more than exercising indoors. The fact is, even if you don't consider yourself a "nature person," science has shown that humans have a very real need for contact with nature. Being in nature provides our brains with a much-needed opportunity to relax and momentarily forget about the increasing pressures of living in modern society.
According to a study conducted by Essex university back in 2010, even five minutes of walking outdoors (whether it's in a park or in a forest) can effectively boost self-esteem. Apparently, this is even more true for young people and people suffering from mental illnesses.
It makes sense; you're probably going to be far less self-conscious outside than you would be in a gym. Instead of being surrounded by other sweaty people who may or may not have cuter workout clothes than you, you'll be surrounded by trees and birds who couldn't care less about the state of your running shoes.
4. Exercising Outdoors Engages Your Mind More
When you exercise in a gym, you're exercising in a controlled environment. While this is great when the weather is terrible or when you need to exercise after dark, it also means that you don't really need to be super aware of your surroundings. Because of this, getting your exercise indoors makes it much harder to practice mindfulness during your workout.
Conversely, exercising outdoors forces you to be aware of what's going on around you while simultaneously offering your eyes and brain a more stimulating and visually pleasing landscape.
5. Exercising Outside Does More To Reduce Tension
Again, exercising anywhere has been shown to work wonders on mental health in general and mood in particular. But back in 2011, after reviewing 11 studies including over 800 participants, a research team at Peninsula College found that subjects who exercised in a natural environment reported a higher decrease in stress, anger, confusion, depression, and tension compared to subjects who exercised indoors.
So, if you're feeling particularly grumpy, consider taking a walk in the park rather than powering through your usual gym session. Even if it's cold out, you probably won't regret it.