In my hometown, there was a gym I used to frequent that is a training centre for several national athletics teams. It was entirely out of convenience that I worked out there, because I actually went to the centre to bike and run the surrounding trails. Getting a weight workout before or after my “fun” workout was just an added bonus. However, my casual gym workouts were often interrupted when the national teams would start tossing around weights I struggled to pick up.
Fortunately, a good workout is just as easy to find outside as it is in the bowels of a gym. And studies have shown that a fitness program that involves regular outdoor activity provides benefits that sweating indoors won’t. Let’s look at 5 reasons you should ditch the gym and head out into the sunshine!
This one is almost too obvious to mention, but it’s an important point. Working out at a fitness centre generally means you’re paying for a membership of some sort. You already own the clothes you’re going to workout in, so save yourself some bucks during periods of nicer weather and head outdoors. If poor weather hits you can always find a gym that has a drop-in price so you’ll still be able to get your fix.
Starting a conversation in a gym is almost as awkward as starting one at a middle school dance. It happens, of course, but most of us aren’t really into it.
Running trails at your nearby park or walking around your neighbourhood are great ways of meeting your extended neighbours. You might even discover that some of them have similar goals and interests, or you might be just that one person who motivates them to start their own journey to a healthy lifestyle.
Having positive community connections can really boost your mental health and sense of belonging, over and above what exercise alone will provide. That’s like a 2-for-1 deal!
A Harder but Gentler Workout
That’s right. Exercising outdoors can have the added benefits of making you work harder with less stress on the body. The variability of terrain outside breaks up the repetition we would normally go through indoors. Walking or running on a trail as opposed to the monotony of a treadmill makes subtle but healthy changes in body positions. You’ll be lifting your feet to avoid rocks and roots, or shifting your balance to accommodate the terrain, and each time you do your body will thank you for switching things up.
Variables in the out of doors also tend to put you through a more difficult workout. A headwind on a bike or while running will obviously provide more resistance, but a tailwind will move you faster and can activate a different (larger) set of muscle fibres. And running/walking without the cushioning of a treadmill can help to increase your body’s impact resistance, making your joints and bones stronger. Swimmers will have to deal with currents and waves, varying the repetition of motion you would feel in an indoor pool.
If you haven’t heard of Forest Therapy yet, you will. A meditation practice that has been happening for decades in Japan has gained enough popularity for doctors to study the effects of Forest Therapy (Shin-rin yoku) on the body, and the results are impressive.
Although outdoor exercise isn’t exactly the same as Forest Therapy, many of the benefits come from simply being around a forest. Phytoncides, compounds that trees release to protect themselves from disease can be also be absorbed by people as they spend time in nature, helping us stay healthy and illness free.
It’s fairly common knowledge that exercise increases the levels of “feel-good” hormones (serotonin) in our bodies, but outdoor activity gives us an even higher boost of happiness. A study conducted at the University of Queensland indicated that those who exercise outdoors had higher levels of serotonin (feel-good hormones) compared to those who exercise primarily indoors. They also had higher levels of endorphins, chemicals responsible for the post-workout rush commonly known as “runner’s high.”
So there you have it! When the weather is in your favour, cash in on the bonus points by heading outside for your workouts. If you are following a specific program, ask your fitness partner to adapt your exercises so you can achieve the same goals without slinging weights. Realistically, a gym will provide some benefits that might be more difficult to accomplish without particular machines, and we’ll cover that topic in a future post. But by balancing indoor and outdoor workouts you’ll be sure to maximize the best of both worlds.
Authored by: Kevin Dyck