Two innate truths about human beings are that we are made to move and we are meant to be in nature. Hence, we’re also made to be active outside.
As organic bodies, we are designed to move in diverse ways—through all the planes of motion; going over, under, and around; working our joints through their complete ranges of motion; and more. Moving in all the different ways nature intended keeps our bodies healthy. “When you move in diverse and functional ways, you free up your range of motion and unlock your body so you can move more efficiently,” says certified personal trainer Brian Bradley.
This type of all-over-and-around movement is intrinsic to outdoor adventures, but today’s gym culture has removed the innate human necessity to get outside and run around in the fresh air.
If you tend to stick to indoor exercise, you may want to reconsider your workout environment. “Low-level aerobic movement in nature tends to be more powerful than movement in a fitness studio,” says holistic coach Jator Pierre, C.S.C.S. Here are six reasons to take advantage of the remaining warm fall days and, as winter approaches, to layer up so you continue to reap the benefits of outdoor workouts.
Outdoor Workouts Are Powerful Stress-Relievers
Plenty of research finds that simply being surrounded by nature has the power to relieve stress, increase creative output, and soothe both body and mind. And pairing a natural environment with movement amps up the benefits.
When we’re stressed, the body releases neurotransmitters and hormones to shift us into fight-or-flight mode. While this is super helpful if the stress is caused by a bear chasing us, if the stress is something like a work deadline and we can’t move, glucose, cortisol, and adrenaline can build up in our bodies, leading to oxidative damage to the tissues, Pierre says. On the other hand, moving in a natural environment helps us use those natural chemicals, in turn lessening our angst, he explains.
Additionally, other studies have demonstrated that, compared to working out indoors, outdoor exercise helps people feel more revitalized, energized, happy, and satisfied.
Nature Forces You to Be “in the Moment”
“When you go for a run and get out in the wind and the trees, it requires you to be present, and this can make a huge difference in your workout,” Bradley says. Your run is more efficient because you’re paying attention to your surroundings, drawing energy and joy from your interaction with the trees. In turn, rather than feeling like your workout is just another item on your to-do list, it becomes an experience—one that can pull you out of a stressful day or your autopilot functioning.
You Move More Naturally
“Running on a treadmill or even on a track gives you zero variability in your ankle and your foot,” Bradley says. “You lose the effect of the ankle on the leg, and that does nothing to activate the load-bearing joints.” Research confirms that runners who work out on treadmills have decreased range of motion in their ankles compared to those who move outdoors in nature, a change attributed to foot strike. The research suggests that natural shifts in landscape and terrain offer opportunities for a full range of motion. Other studies have found outdoor exercise to be more challenging than indoor exercise, in part due to hilly terrain and wind resistance. You’ll naturally work a bit harder on a three-mile run outside than on a treadmill, thus making the run and the time spent more efficient.
You’ll Keep Coming Back
Spending time in natural environments positively influences our intentions surrounding exercise, increasing the likelihood that we return to fitness time and time again, according to a research review of studies involving more than 1 million people. It makes sense: When you feel good and have fun in your daily workout, you want to keep doing it.
Being Outdoors Enhances Interactions
If you work out with others, your conversations are sure to be better outside. In his book Blue Mind, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols discusses the ability of a seascape—in the absence of technology and the day-to-day hustle of modern-day society—to change the nature of conversations, giving way to more meaningful and thoughtful discussion. The same can be said about green and natural spaces. “Getting outside moves you to another level of consciousness,” Bradley says. “It gets you to think differently.”
Getting Outside Removes Limitations
Taking your workout to a nearby park, beach, or simply your open backyard provides unrestricted space to move your joints through their full ranges of motion and be active in the setting that nature intended. You don’t have to worry about square footage, turning around once you hit a wall or furniture, or other people’s space. Walking to your outdoor workout space of choice also tacks on more movement to your overall daily quota—an important aspect of overall health and well-being. For an added bonus, when you arrive, take off your shoes to walk in the grass or sand. It’ll help you take in your surroundings and connect even further to your activity.