Young man on treadmill jogging in front photograph of forest

I love getting on the treadmill or the elliptical in the gym and going hard for a good 45 minutes. What I really love is when the machines are designed to give you outdoor trails to follow on a screen, as you run in place. Some of the virtual running trails that I have been on include the shores of New Zealand, the hills of Santa Fe and the beaches of Australia. While studies show that our tech-riddled world is increasingly detaching us from nature, and that exercising in natural areas improves one’s sense of well-being, sometimes an indoor gym with a beautiful trail on the screen in front of you to follow is as close as you can get to the great outdoors.

That being said, if you do have the option to exercise outdoors, you should definitely take advantage to get fit in nature! Some experts call this “Green Exercise”. Here are a few ways to make the most of what’s left of the good weather,……..

Biking. Many cities have paths and lanes specifically for bikes—this makes it safer to exercise or commute with pedal power.

Running. Lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement. Lakes and parks are great scenic spots for a run or a jog. Increase the benefit to yourself and the environment by walking, running, or jogging there instead of driving.

Walking. Take a walk to see the sunrise or sunset at a local park. Walk to the corner store instead of driving. Do a lap around the neighborhood. When exercise outdoors is incorporated into daily routines, all sorts of great things happen. You meet your neighbors. You get some sunshine (which increases your vitamin D). You see the beauty of your neighborhood in greater detail.

Hiking. Find nature trails in your area and hike to a waterfall or other scenic areas.

Still not convinced? Here are 7 reasons to get your body moving outdoors….

  1. Decreased Stress – Studies have shown that it contributes to decreased tension, confusion, and anger. Even looking at green space can decrease the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenalin.
  2. Sunlight – Exposure to natural sunlight combined with physical activity is thought to increase serotonin levels in our bodies, which can improve feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin is a mood-enhancing chemical, and a deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function.
  3. Less Behavioral Problems – Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder.” He believes human beings spend less time in nature, which contributes to increased behavioral problems, especially among children.
  4. Mental Focus – The environment constantly changes when we exercise outdoors; weather, temperature, and terrain are all factors out of our control. Our minds require a great deal of mental focus to adjust to these subtle changes. As a result, we receive a temporary break from daily stressors, which can improve our ability to focus on day-to-day tasks.
  5. Better Recovery – Spending too much time indoors (even exercising) can become tiring. Outdoor workouts and activities are a great supplement and do not need to be strenuous. Low intensity exercises such as walking can be a powerful tool for recovery from intense, structured gym workouts. They increase blood flow to trained muscles and help deliver oxygen and nutrients.
  6. Muscles – Outdoor sports and activity utilize different muscle groups than structured indoor workouts. For example, trail running and hiking are more difficult than exercising on a treadmill. The uneven terrain requires more lateral movements and the activation of stabilizer muscles throughout our ankles, knees, and core.
  7. Change of Scenery – Challenging yourself to a new activity such as a new trail run or mountain bike route, or paddleboarding for the first time can be exciting and rewarding.

If these 7 reasons don’t get you fired up to go green with your exercise, I don’t know what will! Just remember….any exercise you decide to partake in outdoors should be preceded with sunscreen and efficient hydration.