Most people know that exercise provides many mental and physical health benefits. It helps prevent heart disease and other chronic illnesses, improves mood, reduces stress, improves sleep, and more. But did you know that simply going outside to exercise could increase those benefits? Turns out, it can.
“Outdoor exercise combines two health-enhancing activities: moving your body and getting outdoors,” says Christopher Looze, MD, a specialist in sports orthopaedics at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. “Plus, there are numerous ways to get your exercise outdoors. It can be as simple as a brisk walk around the block or a bike ride in the park. Even light gardening or other yard work is considered moderate physical activity.”
Dr. Looze notes that exercising outdoors offers some other appealing benefits:
A BETTER WORKOUT When you’re active outdoors your body is encountering a constantly changing environment. To keep up the activity at a consistent pace, you need to adapt to changes in your surroundings, such as slight hills or obstacles you may need to dodge. So your body works harder than if you were running on a treadmill or using a stair machine.
EASE OF ACCESS Lack of time, along with cost, are often cited as barriers to exercise. Navigating traffic, parking garages, and crowded locker rooms adds additional time needed to be active. Exercising outdoors can reduce these time constraints and it’s free. And, many outdoor areas include benches, trees, inclined roads, and even designated exercise equipment, allowing for a variety of resistance-training exercises.
AN IMPROVED STATE OF MIND Moving outdoors has been shown to reduce anger and depression. Exposure to sunlight enhances vitamin D production, which has a mood-enhancing effect. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefit. Even low-intensity activities will do.
THE CHANCE TO CONNECT One of the greatest benefits of outdoor exercise is the opportunity to connect with others in your community. Finish your bike ride at a local coffee shop or set up a weekly walking group with friends. Exercising outdoors can help you feel grounded and deepen your appreciation for the world around you.
Don’t let the prospect of outdoor activity scare you. If you’re new to exercise or just getting back into it, start with short exercise sessions and a lighter intensity. If you have any health issues, talk to your doctor before starting.
“I tell people to have a goal in mind, start slowly, and work up to their potential,” Dr. Looze says. “Outdoor exercise can be adapted to anyone’s level of fitness.”
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