Community tennis courts may have closed for the season, but that’s no reason to give up on outdoor activity. Studies confirm there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be found indoors.
A recent survey of 2,000 active participants found outdoor activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than going to the gym. Findings also suggest outdoor activities are more effective at reducing stress and are associated with increased energy and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Participants from a number of additional studies also reported they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date – confirmation that enjoyment is an important factor in helping us stick with an exercise program.
Benefits to outdoor exercise include:
- Outdoor exercise is free – just lace up your shoes and go.
- Get a workout almost anywhere and when it suits you. In the time I spend getting to and from my gym, I can easily grab a half-hour run, or enjoy a brisk walk with my dog. I can also hop on my bike to run a few errands (getting a workout and crossing things off my to-do list). On most days of the week, I can also fit it 20-minute power walk as part of my workday.
- Outdoor exercise tends to be more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. The difference? The subtle changes of exercising outdoors, like wind resistance and changes in terrain.
- In several studies, participants were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill track, the other outdoors. In every study, participants reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while reporting reduced tension, fatigue and depression after walking outdoors.
- A few small studies have found those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors.
- With only 15% of Canadian adults active enough for health benefits, indoor gyms clearly aren’t changing behaviour. It seems a brisk walk outdoors every day could have the potential to make us more active and change health outcomes for many.
- As we exercise outdoors, we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Further, exposure to sunlight during the day can help us sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase feel-good hormones circulating throughout our bodies.