Benefits to Exercising Outside

I’ll take my exercise “to go” please!

I love exercising outside. Through the years, that has taken on a few different forms.

When I lived in New Jersey, there was a running trail pretty much adjacent to my apartment complex. Some mornings, I’d go on a 6 mile run (3 up, 3 back) either while it was still a little dark, or the sun was just starting to rise.

The best was when I lived in Brooklyn, NY. How’s this for a view when you are exercising…

bay ridge promenade.JPG

Something about the fresh air and sunlight elevated the experience. It is completely different than chugging along on a treadmill, or scampering back and forth on a hardwood floor. I really despise treadmill running if the outside environment is just begging for me to come and run all over it.

In the early AM, I’d do some running or running-type calisthenic exercises, and then I’d do my gym workout at night. Or, a few times, I just strapped on my inline skates. I lived in the mid-80’s off of 3rd avenue, so a favorite “path” was to run down to the Verrazano Bridge and back. Being underneath that bridge was something to behold. It was huge. Fun fact about that bridge – there once was a boxer named James J. Braddock. He is the inspiration behind the movie, “Cinderella Man.” Mr. Braddock’s story is very heartwarming and uplifting. When he eventually won the heavyweight title, he used those winnings (and subsequent winnings) to start a heavy-machinery company that played a role in building that bridge. I highly recommend this movie.

Sorry for the sidebar ūüôā

I quickly found that outdoors training isn’t exactly season specific. You can train outdoors in the winter despite the lower temps. There have been great advances in clothing technology that allow you to layer certain performance fabrics. Between those layers, gloves, face masks, and the like, you can train in sub zero temps with minimal discomfort. I know – I did it. Many of my runs in Bay Ridge were in the winter, and the temp was below zero. Thanks to some wool socks, Under Armor, gloves, and a proper ski-mask, I never felt uncomfortable. And, there is something very invigorating about that ice-cold air hitting your lungs.

When I transitioned into bodyweight training, I started to see value in playground equipment that I never really noticed before. Since I wasn’t restricted to barbells or dumbbells to log a strength session, a whole new world opened up to me. The entire earth became my gym. I started eyeballing all of the different stuff that I saw…

“…hmmm, I can probably use that table for some box jumps…”

“…hmmm, I can probably use those monkey bars for a bunch of moving pull ups…”

“…hmmm, I can probably climb up and down that pole…”

“…hmmm, that tree branch looks like it can hold me…”

You get the idea. So now, many years later, I intentionally look for ways to integrate the outdoors into my overall exercise plan. It might be running (which I can only stand a little bit of, to be honest), or it might be longer HIIT sessions with some friends/co-workers. Something just FEELS better about exercising outside. As it turns out, it isn’t in my head. There are studies surfacing to support that outdoor exercise has benefits over its indoor counterpart.

Thanks to Primal Play for letting the world at large share this graphic…

5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise Primal Play Infographic

 

Notice the first callout in the upper left corner – “You’ll boost your immune system.” This refers to the benefits of “green exercise.”¬†Positive effects that have been correlated with green exercise include:

  • improved mental well-being
  • reduced stress
  • the ability to cope with existing stress
  • reduced mental fatigue
  • improved concentration and cognitive function

The next callout in the graphic (lower left) talks about the burst of Vitamin D you’ll get from being outside. This benefit can not be overstated. Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise in our population.¬†¬†During my last physical, it was noted that I should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. I asked my doctor why – did my blood panel show something? He said no, it’s just becoming a staple recommendation to patients due to the overwhelming deficiency for the population at large. Okay – that is probably questionable advice for a doctor to give a patient w/o some type of empirical data, but you get the point – the medical community is noticing, and making generic recommendations to get more vitamin D. The good news is you don’t have to pop a pill to get your fill (hey, that rhymes!).

nice try

According to an article in US News and World Report, as little as 10 minutes of exposure to your skin (the article says to wear shorts and tank top, so the conclusion is to get as much skin exposure as possible w/o sunscreen) can give you enough UV-B radiation to synthesise about 10,000 IU’s of the vitamin. To put that in perspective, the Vitamin D Council recommends that a person who gets NO SUN EXPOSURE supplement with about 2,000 IU a day. So, suffice it to say, if you get some sun exposure on a broad scale (even 10 little minutes), you are taking the best “vitamin” you can.

Note – don’t burn yourself. Sunburn is bad. Duh.

In terms of the actual activity, you should find that the overall level of exertion for outdoor training (compared to indoor training of a similar modality) is greater. When exercising outdoors, wind resistance and variability in the terrain add some extra difficulty to the session. Trail running is a good example of this in action. If you were to run at the same rate on a treadmill and compare that to running at the same rate on a trail, you’ll find that the uneven terrain, changes in elevation, and overall awareness you need to keep your feet under you makes the task much harder than its treadmill counterpart.

So, putting aside the actual biomechanical benefits of engaging in exercise, the simple act of moving the venue outside provides mental benefits as well as nutritional benefits (vitamin D production). Anecdotally, there might even be some social benefits (if you join a park workout group, running group, or choose to run/walk/jog outdoor with friends). It’s also worth mentioning that exposure to the outside (specifically dirt, bacteria, etc…) is very good for your gut biome. If you don’t believe me, check out Dr. Josh Axe’s book “Eat Dirt.”¬†Going for a nice barefoot walk on the grass can have some pretty profound health benefits.

You are probably wondering, “…okay, what should I do outside…?

Simple.

Anything.

Something as basic as walking will put you in a position to reap the benefits of the outdoors. In my opinion, walking, running, yoga, and bodyweight calisthenics are probably the simplest and most portable exercise modalities. You can do that stuff almost anywhere. All you really need is the ground and a little space. There are apps you can download that tell you where trails and running paths are around you. There is even an app that can tell you where known calisthenics parks are located around you. I found 2 of them in Kansas City that I didn’t know existed. One of them is now the setting for my Saturday morning park workouts. There aren’t really many barriers to entry for this type of exercise experience. You really just need to do two things.

  1. Go outside
  2. MOVE

 

Do you enjoy exercising outdoors? If so, what types of training do you do? Please share your experiences below. If you enjoyed this post, please be sure to “like” and “share.”

Advertisements

2 comments

Leave a Reply