There’s nothing like exercising outdoors. If you’ve never tried it, I hope to offer you some compelling reasons to do so, along with a dose of healthy caution as nature certainly has its perils. As always, you should consult your physician before trying any new exercise program, whether outdoors or inside.
Pro: Unbeatable experiences
You cannot climb a mountain, swim across a deep lake or go deep sea diving inside. Try going downhill skiing in your living room. You just can’t. Outside, almost anything seems possible. I vividly remember the first time I reached the top of a mountain solely by the power of my own two legs (and the grace of God). It was exhilarating and empowering. I just don’t get the same feeling on a treadmill, even at maximum incline.
Con: Potential to get stranded, hurt, or stuck
If you’re not sufficiently trained and equipped for your exercise adventure (and/or are overly optimistic about your athletic abilities), you just might suffer from one of these situations. Always have the proper equipment, a buddy and a well researched plan. You don’t want to wait for the local emergency personnel to rescue you (or worse).
Pro: Connect with Nature
There’s something special and uniquely invigorating about exercising in the forest, at the seashore, in a broad meadow or in other beautiful natural scenes. Hiking through a scenic natural park definitely beats staring at a brick wall while lifting weights or chugging away on your cardio equipment. I think that our spirits respond to nature’s beauty in a positive way.
Con: Nature can bite back
While you can’t go on an African safari at your local gym, you also can’t get mauled by a tiger there either. You aren’t going to accidentally disturb a mama bear while using your elliptical machine. There probably aren’t fallen logs and rocks to trip you. You’re less likely to get stung by a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus inside too. You must research the area you’ll be exercising in and prepare properly, every time (that includes learning about local dangers, how to avoid them and even simple things like wearing bug repellent for a simple neighborhood walk during mosquito season).
Pro: Huge variety of activities and sports
It took just a few seconds to come up with this relatively small list of outside exercises (small compared to the actual possibilities): running, kayaking, hiking, spelunking, surfing, walking, golfing, snorkeling, deep sea diving, sledding, ice skating, bicycling, soccer, football, baseball, softball, cross country and downhill skiing, mountain biking, white water rafting, canoeing, gardening, tree climbing, snow shoeing, horseback riding, beach volleyball, badminton and lumberjack competitions. Ok, lumberjack competitions is a little out there but I saw one on television last week so I guess it was on my mind. The point is that if you’re open to new experiences, you should never get bored with outdoor exercise.
Con: Can be inconvenient
That all sounds great but if you live in the middle of a big city most of these experiences can be hard to find and no matter where you live, to get such a variety would probably require travel in order to participate. It takes time, training and preparation for many outdoor activities. If you can’t devote yourself to doing it safely, you’re better off exercising indoors.
Pro: Fresh air
Especially if you live in a natural paradise, but even if you’re just walking around the block, fresh air can boost your spirits and free your mind. It may even improve your self esteem. When the air is clear and the temperature’s right, it’s exhilarating to exercise outside. It just feels good.
Con: Polluted air, particulates, and ozone
Exercising outside can be dangerous too, especially if you suffer from respiratory ailments, diabetes or heart conditions. Mayo Clinic Dr. Edward R. Laskowski advises, “During aerobic activity – even low-intensity activity – you may breathe as much as 10 times more air than you do when at rest. You’re also likely to draw air more deeply into your lungs and breathe mostly through your mouth, bypassing your filtering nasal passages. These factors work together to increase your contact with pollutants, making air pollution and exercise a potentially risky combination.” Pay attention to the air quality readings and if you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned above, think twice before exercising outdoors. Even if you are perfectly healthy, heed your local government’s air quality warnings. Your life may depend upon it.
Pro: Adventure Travel
I love the idea of backpacking through Europe, doing an Australian walkabout, participating in an Costa Rican yoga retreat or trekking through the Amazon jungle. There are packages available for all levels of fitness in places both tame and very wild. This kind of outdoor exercise can be the adventure of a lifetime.
Con: Climate, weather and temperature limitations
Of course, if you just paid $5000 for your adventure travel and it rains the whole time, it might not be as pleasant. If you live somewhere where it’s unbearably hot or cold half the year (or more) exercising outdoors may not even be an option sometimes. Exercising outside during a hurricane or tornado is not a good idea (don’t do it!). I have a friend who suffers from both multiple sclerosis and asthma. She cannot exercise outside if it’s colder than 34 degrees or hotter than 80 degrees. She loves to exercise outside but sometimes it’s just not possible, so she works out inside. I have a client who has lupus who gets so sick she can hardly move if she’s outside when it’s over 70 degrees. Everyone is different. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and listen to your body.
Pro: You might get a better workout
When exercising outdoors our bodies move differently. We often engage more muscles. Our balance can be challenged in new and different ways. Our senses are usually more fully engaged. We’re more focused. The beauty of our surroundings might encourage us to go a little longer than if we were inside.
Con: Your crime risk might be higher
Be aware of your surroundings. Take a course in personal safety. Remember the buddy rule. I don’t often hear of people getting mugged, raped or shot in their gym but out in the world anything can happen. Safety first is a good rule.
Pro: Natural Sunlight
Regularly exercising in natural sunlight has been shown to relieve depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sunlight is necessary for our bodies to make their own vitamin D, which is essential to good health and lacking in most Americans’ diets.
Con: Skin Cancer
Instead of exposing your skin to damaging solar rays you can take a good vitamin D supplement and use sunscreen all the time that you are going to be exposed to sunlight. Dr. Kristie Leong advises, “Most people need a minimum of 400 I.U. of vitamin D a day.” Remember to apply chemical sunscreens at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. If you really want your body to make your own Vitamin D, consult your local doctor about how much daily sun exposure you need in your area for sufficient vitamin D production and whether the sun exposure is worth the increased skin cancer risk.
Pro: Can be free or very cheap
Walking outside is usually free and the only equipment you need is usually a good pair of walking shoes, sunscreen (or reflective clothing if it’s dark) and insect repellant. Swimming at the beach, going for a jog, or hiking in the woods are all inexpensive outdoor exercise options.
Con: Can be quite expensive
Skiing, golf, deep sea diving and other equipment driven activities can get expensive fast. Not to mention lift and range fees, boat charters and other expenses. Before you commit to an activity, be sure to find out what you’re going to need to do it and verify that your budget allows it.
Outdoor exercise has many benefits, many of which cannot be duplicated with indoor exercise. But it also has plenty of drawbacks and you want to make sure you address them before you head outside for that workout. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!”
Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/air-pollution-and-exercise/AN01974
Associated Content, Contributor Dr. Kristie Leong, http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2953776/is_milk_a_good_food_source_of_vitamin.html?cat=5
The Clean Air Campaign and Mothers & Others for Clean Air at the Georgia Conservancy, http://www.georgiaconservancy.org/mothersandothers/downloads/SmogHealthGuidelines042808.pdf
Audubon Magazine, http://magblog.audubon.org/small-doses-daily-outdoor-exercise-boost-mood-and-self-esteem-study-shows