Why Exercising Outdoors May Be More Effective
Winter may not be the ideal time to begin exercising outdoors, but new studies suggest that getting physical activity outside can provide benefits you couldn't get in a gym.
Studies found that runners' strides were longer when running outside, which is a more efficient use of energy. They also found that people flex their ankles more when they run outside. And, don't forget that you're using a whole other set of muscles when you're running downhill outside, which is an action that can't really be replicated on a treadmill.
Studies that compared the exertion of running on a treadmill against the exertion of running outside found that treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those running outside, mainly because those running on treadmills face no wind resistance or changes in terrain.
A number of recent studies showed that those who exercised outdoors as opposed to those who did the same exercise indoors enjoyed the outside activity more. One specific study where people walked the same distance indoors as they did outdoors reported that on subsequent psychological tests, those who walked outdoors "scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem..."
A study last year of older adults found that those who exercised outside exercised longer and more often than those working out indoors. In one particular study, the researchers asked men and women about their exercise habits and then fitted them all with electronic gadgets that measured their activity levels for a week. The gadgets and the survey showed that the men and women who exercised outside were significantly more physically active.
A few small studies have found that people have lower blood levels of cortisol, which is a hormone related to stress, after exercising outside as compared with inside. Some say that exposure to direct sunlight, which is known to affect mood, may play a role, too.