It’s the change of season and there are days when you don’t know if you’d be better off wearing your spring sweater or winter jacket when getting outside in the morning, or if you’d rather grab an iced coffee or hot cup of tea. Same goes with your exercise routine. A lot of you consider starting a more regular fitness routine at this time of the year and the question is whether you should be working out inside or outside.
There is no straightforward answer to that, as we are all different. We have different needs and schedule, different fitness level, different activities we like to do in order to stay healthy, different times of day / week we want to engage in these activities, different place where we work / live / commute – which dictates our access to specific indoor / outdoor training areas.
Below I will list the main pros and cons of exercising outdoors vs. indoors. The best recipe is to combine both!
Outdoor training benefits
-You get to breathe fresh air plus your daily dose of sunshine and vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for your bones, whereas the sun improves self-esteem and is associated with higher levels of positive emotions.
-You practice involuntary attention. During most of our waking hours, we use the so-called directed attention ability, which helps us drive or perform a task without distracting ourselves – anything that demands concentrated effort. When exercising outdoors, you are not only exercising your body, but enjoying stress and mental fatigue reduction benefits and restoring your attention. This renews your ability to perform tasks that need focused effort.
-When you’re outside, it’s easier to exercise longer, as the natural surroundings help you stay motivated. About half of the people who join a gym don’t stick with it beyond the first year. People who exercise outside, on the other hand, tend to stick with their exercise programs more consistently. This is a good tip especially if you are starting your fitness routine; include an outdoor session in your weekly schedule.
-Better visual and sensory experience: it’s better to watch the birds or a tree than the wall, right? Moreover, being exposed to plants decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers your resting heart rate and your blood pressure.
Main pitfalls of exercising outdoors
-Air pollution: while physical activity practiced outdoors is key to a healthy lifestyle, it can also be harmful to your health. With aerobic activity, you inhale more air and breathe it more deeply into your lungs (via your mouth and not nose, which normally filters some of the airborne pollution particles). Whereas it’s not clear how much exposure is a danger, you need to take care if you exercise in an urban area or near a main road. If that is the case, make sure you vary your outdoor workouts with indoor sessions, avoid going for an outdoor session during rush hours (usually early morning or midday-afternoon) and consider exercising with a mask which filters the air you breathe! Most importantly, if you have asthma or other lung conditions, heart problems or diabetes, check with your doctor on whether it’s safe for you to exercise outside.
-The weather can interfere with your session: there’s nothing better than exercising outdoors on a cool day, but what if it’s raining or too hot? Depending on the season and the time of your workout, you need to have a plan B so as not to miss your session if the weather doesn’t play ball.
Indoor training benefits
-Higher intensity means better results. Especially if you’re a seasoned exerciser, the gym or any closed space with organised equipment means that you have a larger equipment choice (that you don’t need to carry with you vs. exercising outdoors) to modify the intensity of your session according to your level and your goals.
-You don’t have to check the weather forecast. Whether it’s raining cats and dogs or too hot, you can grab your umbrella or wear your lightest outfit and head to wherever it is you are going! Plus, you can control the temperature by turning on the heating or the air condition, respectively. Exercising in the right temperature has a big effect on the quality of your workouts. With better cooling, your heart rate will be lower than it would if you were exercising outside.
-Time saving: unless you live right next to the beach, the park or the mountain, working outdoors involves some driving. When training indoors, you can just get in your trainers and workout at home or find a gym or studio only 5’ on foot from where you are.
-No pollutants: if you live in an urban area or don’t have access to a park or forest that filters the air, exercising indoors means that the air you breathe is free(r) of pollutants that might interfere with the health of your respiratory system.
Main pitfalls of exercising indoors
-Same old, same old: Things don’t look much different if you’re always exercising in the same space. When I spend too much time in the gym I sometimes think I’m like those mice who run on the wheel in their home cage.
-Although exercise results in the creation of positive feelings, exercising inside doesn’t lead to the euphoria that working out in the open results in.
If you want to feel better, just get outside; besides a fitness routine, you can try gardening, head to the beach on the weekend or go for a bike ride. Walking in nature increases our energy and decreases frustration, worry, tension and tiredness far more than light activity indoors does, according to the latest evidence. Try to go to a scenery where you can see water, as images containing water are more restorative than those without.
If you’re reading this at the office, change your desktop to a nature scene. See how this background makes you feel and reduce the clutter on your desktop so you can see it!