Outdoor Exercise
Running in sand adds extra resistance and challenge to a workout.

Can the Great Outdoors Benefit Your Workout?

Outdoor Exercise

By Mary-Milam Granberry

People dedicated to exercise will work out in one of two environments: indoors or outdoors. Sometimes both. Each holds clear advantages: The indoors allows you to sweat it out through inclement weather, if seasonal allergies torment your time outdoors, or if you may need special equipment available only in the confines of a gym (think an elliptical machine for someone with bad knees).

Outdoor exercise is attractive for a number of reasons: Of course your body is exposed to natural sunlight (don’t forget the sunscreen!), wind and sand can add beneficial resistance to a jog or run, and the earth’s naturally uneven terrain requires mental agility, lest you break an ankle and consign yourself to a bout of physical therapy.

But do medical professionals think outdoor exercise is inherently better than indoor exercise? Preliminary research shows that exercise in green spaces can improve self esteem, which boosts mood. Other benefits include keeping the heart healthy and preventing some illnesses and disease. In 2011, a systematic review of a variety of small studies of outdoor exercise found that people generally feel better after outdoor exercise, but as with most research, more studies are warranted on the subject.

On the bright side, most medical professionals believe that exposure to sunlight (sunscreen!!) chemically increases the number of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, thus increasing feelings of happiness.

Consider one of these ways to try what scientists term “green exercise”:

  • Go to a local park with friends and bask in the sunlight (this would need to be on a sunny day, of course)
  • Join a Color Run
  • Take a kayak tour of a local river
  • Go caving (small closed-in spaces may be involved)
  • Find an outdoor yoga, tai chi or zumba group
  • Visit a ropes course and fly down a zipline

When it comes to green exercise, sweating it out under the sun isn’t a must; simply sitting in a park enjoying the natural scenery for a little while can add a surprising spring to your step for the rest of the day.


Mary-Milam Granberry is graduate student at Emerson College in the publishing and writing program. The focus of her master’s degree is children’s publishing and creating interactive content for web and e-reader devices. Follow her @editmylife.

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 Photograph of woman exercising by Dirima/Shutterstock

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