With a very welcome spring just starting to wake up, there's a definite pull to take the workout outdoors at the moment. And there are more benefits than simply stopping and smelling the roses.
There are some genuine health benefits too. If exercising outdoors is new to you, here are a handful of reasons why you might want to include it in your regular training routine.
#1. Health Benefits
Exercising outdoors in the sunshine gives you a boost of Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin. This has several benefits, but chief among them are feelings of well-being and improved sleep quality. That sense of looking forward to getting your training session completed and being motivated and excited to exercise has anecdotally been higher when the workout happens outside, too. With fitness enthusiasts explaining, they find it less of a struggle to exercise when they don't have to make a special trip to the gym to do it.
The fresh air is particularly welcome in springtime. The warmer mornings and lighter evenings give you far more opportunities to get outside. A word of caution for people with allergies and asthma that may be triggered by pollen, though. Remember to take your inhaler with you when you're away from home, as well as preventative medications such as anti-histamines to minimize any reaction to seasonal pollen. This way, you can make sure that you will enjoy your time outdoors.
#2. Energy Level Benefits
Exposure to sunlight, especially direct sunlight during the mornings, can be incredibly effective at regulating circadian rhythms. This is the rhythm your body follows over a single day. It governs any biological process that happens roughly once per day - like the sleep-wake cycle.
Modern life in the western hemisphere is often governed by artificial "blue light", computer screens, indoor lighting, and significant amounts of time spent on cell phones. These can disrupt the circadian rhythm, especially around bedtime. This is why so many people experience some level of sleep disruption.
Exercising outdoors - paired with minimizing screen time in the evenings before bed - can be highly effective at regulating circadian rhythms. This will have a direct impact on both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
#3. Mental Health Benefits
Many people instinctively feel drawn to the great outdoors. They understand that the more time they spend in nature, the better they feel. This is a well-documented side effect of "green space" such as parks, forests, and even gardens.
Time spent in green space (or blue space, by the coast) can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. These elevations in your mood last longer than your time outside and can be carried with you throughout the day. The effects are not permanent, though, and regularly spending time outdoors is recommended for best results. You can feel the benefits with as little as 10 minutes outside.
#4. Added Aerobic Activity
The benefits of doing aerobic work are that you get fitter. The more efficiently your body uses oxygen, the easier every part of your life becomes - including resistance training.
If the goal at the moment is weight loss, this additional outside activity will help you to burn some extra calories. But don't feel like you have to keep the intensity super high to get a great workout. Steady-state cardio for a more extended period, like a long leisure walk, is excellent too.
So what type of exercise is best? The great news there is that it's whatever you most like doing. That's because the more you enjoy your workout, the easier it will be to stick to it and get into a consistent routine.
Popular options include walking, hiking, running, and cycling - but there's no "correct answer" here. If you want to do yoga in the park, play golf, or throw a frisbee around - these are all perfect options. If you are moving, and you're outside - you're doing a great job and getting all the benefits.
The bottom line is that exercising outdoors has so many benefits that once the weather is inviting, I think everybody should find a way to include it into their regular fitness routine.
Whether that's taking a long walk every other day, playing tennis, hiking in the forest, or just kicking the ball with the kids in your family, it all counts. It will help your body produce more vitamin D so long some of your skin is exposed, you'll be able to manage your sleep better and you can have lots of fun.