What are the benefits of outdoor workouts?

The appeal of outdoor exercise is undeniable. Whether it's the feeling of the sun on your skin, the refreshing breeze, or the scenic beauty surrounding you, exercising in nature offers a unique and refreshing experience that indoor environments fail to replicate. Scientific research increasingly supports the myriad benefits of taking your workout outdoors, making it not just a pleasurable option but a highly beneficial one for both body and mind.

Embarking on a journey of fitness in the open air can be transformative. The advantages are extensive, from enhancing physical health to boosting mental well-being. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the key reasons you should consider shifting your workout regimen to the great outdoors and the science-backed benefits of it.

Physical Health Benefits

One of the most compelling reasons to exercise outdoors is the array of physical health benefits you can gain. Unlike indoor gyms, nature offers a dynamic and varied terrain that forces your body to adapt, ensuring a more complete and effective workout.

Higher Caloric Burn

Outdoor environments pose natural challenges such as uneven surfaces, wind resistance, and changing elevations, all contributing to a higher caloric burn. According to Harvard research, running in an open park, as opposed to a treadmill, can increase calorie expenditure by up to 10%. Moreover, the Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reports that individuals tend to exercise longer when outdoors due to reduced feelings of monotony, burning an additional 250 calories per session.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Engaging in outdoor activities like running, cycling, or brisk walking can significantly enhance cardiovascular health. The fresh air and oxygen-rich environment help improve respiratory function while the physical exertion strengthens the heart muscles, reducing the risk of heart disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to reap these benefits.

Mental Health Benefits

The mental health benefits of exercising outdoors are profound. Nature uniquely alleviates stress and enhances mood, making it an excellent backdrop for physical activity.

Stress Reduction

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology highlights that a mere five minutes of walking in a green space can drastically reduce stress levels and rejuvenate your motivation to stay active. The calming effect of nature is further amplified when exercising near water bodies such as rivers or lakes, providing a significant mental boost.

Enhanced Creativity and Cognitive Function

Taking your workout outdoors can boost creativity and cognitive function. The Journal of Experimental Psychology reports that 10 minutes of outdoor activity can spark creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. Immersing oneself in nature for extended periods has been shown to improve performance in tasks requiring creativity and innovation by up to 50%.

Combatting Mental Health Issues

Spending time outdoors while engaging in physical activity can be a powerful tool in combatting mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, even short stints in nature can lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation, critical factors in managing depression and anxiety. In some regions, doctors now prescribe ‘nature prescriptions' to patients, encouraging them to integrate walks and other outdoor activities into their treatment plans.

Social Benefits

Outdoor exercise also facilitates social interactions, enhancing your overall experience and keeping you committed to your fitness goals.

Building Community

Participating in group activities such as park runs, outdoor yoga sessions, or even joining local sports leagues can help build a sense of community. Sharing your fitness journey with like-minded individuals provides social support and motivation. Events like 5K races encourage friendly rivalries, enhancing your performance and commitment.

Exercising with Pets

For pet owners, outdoor workouts present an opportunity to bond with their furry friends. Studies from Michigan State University show that dog owners are a third more likely to meet their exercise targets due to the necessity of daily walks, regardless of weather conditions. This not only benefits the owner but also ensures the pet stays active and healthy.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

Opting for outdoor exercise over a gym membership or indoor classes also carries significant environmental and economic advantages.

Environmental Impact

Exercising outdoors reduces your carbon footprint. Gyms are energy-intensive, using electricity for lighting, air conditioning, and exercise machines. Working out in a park or along a trail, you help decrease energy consumption and support a more sustainable lifestyle.

Cost Savings

Outdoor workouts are free and accessible, eliminating the need for costly gym memberships or specialized equipment. All you need is a good pair of shoes and comfortable attire. Public parks, community gardens, and hiking trails are readily available and offer diverse exercise environments.

Versatility and Flexibility

The versatility of outdoor exercise means something for everyone, regardless of fitness level or preference.

Running and Walking

Running remains the most popular form of outdoor exercise, with an estimated 621 million regular runners worldwide. Whether training for a marathon or enjoying a leisurely jog, running outdoors helps improve cardiovascular health and endurance. Beginners can start with short runs, gradually increasing distance and intensity.

Walking, on the other hand, is a low-impact exercise suitable for all ages. Les Mills Program Director Rachael Newsham walks outside for at least an hour each day, finding it a perfect time for active meditation and planning.

Outdoor Yoga

When practiced outdoors, yoga can be a rejuvenating experience that combines physical exercise with mindfulness. The natural surroundings enhance sensory awareness, making the practice even more beneficial for mental health. BODYBALANCE sessions, for instance, can be particularly magical when conducted outside on a sunny day.

Circuit Training

Circuit training in an outdoor setting can be both exhilarating and effective. Setting up park stations or using equipment like benches and steps can provide a full-body workout that builds strength and cardio fitness. Programs like LES MILLS+ offer a variety of workouts that can be done anytime, anywhere, perfect for outdoor exercise enthusiasts.

Wild Swimming

Wild swimming is a growing trend for those seeking a more adventurous activity that offers numerous benefits. The Outdoor Swimming Society has seen a surge in popularity, with members enjoying the mental and physical benefits of swimming in natural water bodies. Cold water swimming, in particular, has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression through its anti-inflammatory effects.


The benefits of outdoor exercise are vast and varied, touching on every aspect of health and well-being. The advantages are clear from higher caloric burn and improved cardiovascular health to significant enhancements in mental health. Moreover, the social, environmental, and economic benefits make it a compelling choice for individuals and society.

Incorporating outdoor activities into your fitness regimen can be transformative, offering a refreshing alternative to traditional indoor workouts. So lace up your shoes, step outside, and embrace the natural world for a healthier, happier you.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.