With the arrival of spring, not to mention COVID-19, it’s time to make changes to your exercise routine. Some people are content to exercise indoors at home, while others already know, or will soon discover, that exercising outdoors offers a multiple of options and benefits.
A Scottish Health Survey (2008) of 2,000 active participants found that outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than exercising at the gym. The researchers also found that walking, running, biking, and other outdoor activities, particularly in a green space, also reduced stress. I’m a big believer in a daily dose of ‘Vitamin N’ (nature) in all seasons, which is why I opt to exercise outdoors several times a week.
Compared with indoor exercise, being active outdoors is also associated with increased energy, and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression — feelings that so many Canadians are experiencing as we follow social distancing guidelines amidst the Corona virus pandemic. Best of all, participants from a number of additional studies reported they were more likely to repeat outdoor activity at a later date.
Here are some of the additional benefits to outdoor exercise:
- Outdoor physical activity is often more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill users expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. What makes the difference? Small changes affiliated with exercising outdoors… things like wind resistance and changes in terrain.
- A few small studies have also found that those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors.
- In a number of recent studies, volunteers were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill or track, the other outdoors. In every study, the volunteers reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while also reporting reduced fatigue and depression and tension..
- Enjoyment may be the most important reason to exercise outdoors and make it easier to commit to doing so regularly. With only a small fraction of Canadian adults active enough for their health, the prevalence of indoor gyms don’t appear to be changing behaviour.
- When we exercise outdoors, we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Research tells us that 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. Nonetheless, it is important to think prevention and to protect your skin from sun damage.
Easy ways to be active outdoors include: gardening and yard work, walking, running, hiking, cycling, skateboarding, active games and play with the kids (from games of Hopscotch, to jumping rope, to playing basketball). Right now it’s prudent to avoid outdoor gyms and group exercise.