Innocensia Kambewe 07 Jul 2022

Exercise is important for staying healthy and boosting your mood. Going to the gym, outdoor activities, or a home workout are some examples of exercise beneficial to the body (1).

Outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, or exploring local areas benefit the mind and body. There are a few key benefits to incorporating these activities into your daily routine (1):

When people think of working out, they usually think of going to a gym or some other indoor facility. While there are many benefits to exercising indoors, such as convenience and more control over the exercise routine, there are also several advantages to exercising outdoors.

People who suffer from depression or anxiety might want to consider exercising outdoors instead of at the gym for these reasons (2).

Studies have shown that people who spent time in nature experienced less anxiety, depression, and anger than their urban counterparts.

One particular study compared two groups of adults who participated in a nature walk at an urban park with one group led through busy streets with heavy traffic. Participants rated their moods before and after the walk.

After completing the walks, both groups were assessed for anxiety, depression, and anger levels. The researchers observed that those who walked in nature felt happier than those who passed through urban environments (2).

The Overall Benefits of Exercising Outdoors

Exercising outdoors has several advantages over indoor and gym workouts:

  • It can be more fun than an indoor workout. Working out in nature can help to relax and unwind after a stressful day. It is also a great way to enjoy the weather while getting the heart rate up.
  • Exercising in nature can help burn more calories than exercising indoors because natural environments make the work harder. This is because it forces the maintenance of balance to keep up with the activity being done. For example, walking uphill burns more calories than walking on flat ground because it takes more effort for the muscles to move the body, countering the extra resistance of gravity and uneven terrain (3).
  • The outdoors offer increased sunlight exposure. Sunlight exposure helps boost mood, regulates the sleep cycle, and even helps in living longer. When people spend time outdoors on their breaks from work or school, they report feeling more refreshed and less stressed afterward (4).
  • It's free. There is no cost associated with getting outside and enjoying the fresh air. You can walk or jog around your neighborhood or go on a hike in a nearby park without spending any money at all.

The human body is designed to stay active and moving. Unfortunately, it is a fact that most people are not getting enough daily physical activity.

Research has shown that people who exercise regularly are healthier. It has also been shown that moderate exercise, such as walking, can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes(4).

Some experts believe that exercising 30 minutes a day can be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression.

Here are the mental and physical benefits of outdoor activities compared to the gym.

Mental Benefits:

There are many mental benefits associated with outdoor activities. For example;

  • Hiking: It can be a very relaxing activity that helps de-stress from work or other responsibilities. It presents an opportunity to spend time with your friends or family while enjoying nature together. A person gets a chance to learn new things about themselves while hiking, such as how far they can walk without getting tired or how long it takes for them to stop sweating after reaching a mountain peak. These insights can help improve health by enabling better dietary and lifestyle choices.
  • Walking: Walking at least 10,000 steps per day will help in losing weight and improving health (5)

The benefits of outdoor activities versus gym workouts are numerous. While some people may feel more comfortable working out in a gym, there are many advantages to exercising outside.

Outdoor Activities Can Reduce Stress

Getting outside can be an excellent way to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happy and relaxed. It also allows you to take time away from your busy life and focus solely on yourself (5).

Outdoor Activities Improve Mental Health

Exercising outdoors has been proven to improve mental health. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can boost creativity and improve cognitive function. Being around plants and greenery can also boost mood and reduce anxiety (5).

Outdoor Activities Can Help Improve Sleep

Exercising outdoors early in the day can promote better sleep patterns as this helps regulate the circadian rhythm - the 24-hour process that controls the sleep-wake cycle (5). According to research published in the journal Nature, exercising during daylight hours can help reset the natural clock so that falling asleep is easier at night. It also helps reduce daytime fatigue due to inadequate sleep or excessive sunlight exposure (5).

The physical benefits:

According to a study, outdoor activities are as good, if not better, than indoor activities for improving physical fitness. This is because they provide a greater range of motion and promote more muscle activity (6).

Indoor activities are often repetitive and involve only one or two muscle groups at a time. This can lead to injuries, especially if not properly warmed up and stretched before the workout. In contrast, outdoor activities utilize multiple muscle groups simultaneously and require movement in all directions rather than in just one direction repeatedly.

A good example would be riding an elliptical machine vs running outside. When riding an elliptical machine, there is no impact on the joints, so it is much easier on the body than going out for a run, where every step involves shock absorption through joints and bones.

Other positive impacts that outdoor activities have on the human body (7):

  • Exercise is great for health. It helps improve mood and reduce stress levels, which can help prevent serious health problems like heart disease or diabetes.
  • Exercise also helps strengthen muscles and bones, which can help prevent injuries while playing sports or doing other types of physical activity.
  • When exercising outside, especially in the mornings, more vitamin D is absorbed than indoors. Studies have shown that Vitamin D helps prevent depression and optimizes physical performance.
  • Exercises like brisk walking can also help contribute to one's gut health.

According to a 2016 study in the journal of Psychophysiology, people who exercise outside have lower heart rates and blood pressure compared to those who work out indoors or in a gym.

Exercising outside can help reduce stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that helps deal with stressful situations by releasing energy through increased blood pressure and heart rate. When there is too much cortisol in the body, there is a higher level of anxiety or depression symptoms experienced.

Exercising outdoors also gives us an opportunity to meet new people while getting fresh air and sunlight, which can help improve mood and boost self-esteem. It also increases energy expenditure, reduces stress, and improves physical fitness.

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About the Author:
Innocensia is a public health specialist, medical writer and researcher based in South Africa. One of her greatest passions is helping others gain more knowledge on health and medical issues in the world. This is why she spends a lot of her time writing public health and medical articles to increase health awareness.


  • Folk AL, Wagner BE, Hahn SL, Larson N, Barr-Anderson DJ, Neumark-Sztainer D. Changes to physical activity during a global pandemic: A mixed methods analysis among a diverse population-based sample of emerging adults in the US. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021 Apr 1;18(7):3674.
  • Slater SJ, Christiana RW, Gustat J. Peer Reviewed: Recommendations for keeping parks and green space accessible for mental and physical health during COVID-19 and other pandemics. Preventing chronic disease. 2020;17.
  • Winter PL, Selin S, Cerveny L, Bricker K. Outdoor recreation, nature-based tourism, and sustainability. Sustainability. 2019 Dec 20;12(1):81.
  • Caputo EL, Reichert FF. Studies of physical activity and COVID-19 during the pandemic: a scoping review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2020 Nov 3;17(12):1275-84.
  • Gierc M, Riazi NA, Fagan MJ, Di Sebastiano KM, Kandola M, Priebe CS, Weatherson KA, Wunderlich KB, Faulkner G. Strange days: adult physical activity and mental health in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health. 2021 Apr 15;9:567552.
  • Janeczko E, Bielinis E, Wójcik R, Woźnicka M, Kędziora W, Łukowski A, Elsadek M, Szyc K, Janeczko K. When urban environment is restorative: The effect of walking in suburbs and forests on psychological and physiological relaxation of young Polish adults. Forests. 2020 May;11(5):591.
  • Olafsdottir G, Cloke P, Schulz A, Van Dyck Z, Eysteinsson T, Thorleifsdottir B, Vögele C. Health benefits of walking in nature: A randomized controlled study under conditions of real-life stress. Environment and Behavior. 2020 Apr;52(3):248-74.

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