It took a global pandemic to awaken many of us to the wonders of working out outdoors. Now, even though most gyms have reopened their doors – and we know nothing beats the motivation of a live in-studio workout – the value of exercise outdoors is still gaining momentum. In fact, The American Council on Exercise has even started a movement designed to get people moving together outside. If you haven’t already, it’s time you consider adding outdoor exercise to your fitness regime.
#1 Exercise outdoors can make you a brighter and nicer person
Working out outside has plenty of proven mood-boosting benefits. Scientists found those who work out in natural environments enjoy increased feelings of revitalization, more energy and more positivity. Plus they are less likely to deal with tension, confusion and anger. And you can enjoy the benefits quickly. Spending as little as 20 minutes in nature is shown to lower stress hormone levels and boost mood.
#2 Outdoor exercise can help reduce the risk of poor mental health
Because sunshine naturally increases serotonin – a hormone that affects your mood – it's not surprising that exercise outside can help fend off depression and anxiety. Researchers found people who exercise outdoors at least once per week have about half the risk of poor mental health compared with those who are active in other settings. And with every extra weekly outdoor physical activity session, they reduce the risk of mental health issues by a further six percent. Outdoor exercise also helps mitigate the risk of seasonal affective disorder – a serious depressive illness that affects around 10 million people in the U.S. and many more worldwide. You can learn more about how exercise helps balance out seasonal affective disorder here.
“Nothing beats training outdoors. You get fresh air, vitamin D and it just puts you in a really good mental space.” Mark Nu’u-Steele
#3 Outdoor workouts can boost fitness results
When you exercise out in the fresh air, it can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, which can make your workout feel less strenuous. As a result, you'll be more inclined to push yourself into a higher training zone. Interestingly, cyclists are known to burn more calories when riding outdoors due to the wind resistance, and research shows runners burn more calories navigating outdoor terrain than they do on a treadmill. What’s more, studies show when you exercise outdoors, you’re likely to train for longer – outdoor exercises seemed to do an average of 30 minutes more exercise than those who sweated it out indoors. Outdoor exercisers also reported more enjoyment, greater satisfaction and an increased likelihood of making a habit out of exercise.
“Exercise is not always about going faster or harder. It’s just about being consistent – and that’s why I love the convenience of being able to work out outside on the deck.” Kaylah-Blayr Fitzsimons Nu’u.
#4 You can always feel safe working out outside
When fitness clubs were forced to close their studio doors during lockdown, many started offering structured workouts outdoors. Now, despite studios reopening and extensive hygiene measures making gyms very safe places to get your sweat on, outdoor workouts remain hugely popular with many gym members. New purpose-built outdoor studios are popping up all over the planet, and more gymgoers can enjoy the motivation of their favorite group fitness classes alongside the unique benefits of alfresco fitness – giving them the best of both worlds! With a stunning 120m² outdoor studio, 20 “20 Fitness in Germany say their outdoor classes have become the talk of the town – proving particularly attractive for those new to exercise. And the newly-installed outdoor studio at Maxsport Attendorn in Germany is also a real hit, with members saying outdoor training is now their preference, and that it makes them feel much safer.
Who is outdoor exercise best suited to?
Anyone and everyone can and should enjoy the benefits of physical activity in nature! After analyzing 10 studies from across the United Kingdom, researchers came to the conclusion that both men and women will enjoy increased self-esteem and improved mood after working out in a green environment. Younger people are most likely to see the biggest lift in self-esteem and men are more likely to enjoy a greater mood boost. Interestingly, those who work out in the presence of water seem to enjoy the greatest effects.
You don’t have to sweat to get the outdoor benefits
There is plenty of evidence that simply sitting in nature can work wonders for your wellbeing. Japanese researchers found those who spent time sitting in forest settings had lower cortisol levels, lower heart rates and lower systolic blood pressure than those who stayed in their urban settings. The forest dwellers also had increased immune function – which remained impressively strong even one month after returning to their urban life. Read more about nature’s healing power here.
THE BEST WORKOUTS TO DO OUTSIDE
Yoga and nature are the perfect fit, you don't need much space or any equipment, and being out in the elements really awakens your senses, which works wonders for your mind and body.
“BODYBALANCE outside on a beautiful day can be pretty magical,” says Erin Maw, Les Mills Choreographer. “I don’t do it enough, but I wish I had more time to add outdoor yoga into my schedule!” If yoga is not your thing, functional stretching session could be ideal. On the days that he’s physically exhausted, Mark Nu’u Steele, Les Mills Creative Director, says a LES MILLS STRETCH session out on the deck always hits the spot, “I could spend up to two hours doing functional stretches outside, I love it.”
Whether it's a brisk walk or a relaxed stroll, venturing outdoors for a walk does amazing things for your health and wellbeing. Les Mills Program Director Rachael Newsham walks outside for at least an hour each day. “My walking allows me to dream, it’s like planning time and active meditation. I love that I can zone out and just be in touch with nature. Sometimes I have no podcasts, no music, no nothing – I’m there just walking. Other times I’m listening to podcasts to educate myself or listening to my music for new workouts.”
Outdoor HIIT and cardio workouts
High-intensity interval training is the fastest way to build fitness, you can do it anywhere without any equipment and you’re guaranteed to get hot and sweaty – so being out in the fresh air is a winner. “A tough LES MILLS GRIT workout outside can give you a fantastic buzz,” says Erin. Mark is also a fan, often joining daughter and Les Mills Presenter, Kaylah-Blayr Fitzsimons-Nu’u, for an alfresco LES MILLS GRIT workout – LES MILLS GRIT Cardio 25 is always a popular choice. Mark and Kaylah-Blayr also look for any opportunity to do BODYSTEP out on the deck too. “We know the calorie burn and how much we sweat during BODYSTEP, so if the weather’s good, smashing out a BODYSTEP workout outside is a no-brainer," says Mark.
Erin runs outside four times a week, “I LOVE running outdoors because it’s how I recharge. I give a lot of myself and my energy to my job, so running is what I do for me, it’s my active relaxation.” Erin’s marathon training means she goes on pretty lengthy runs, but you don’t have to run for long distances to enjoy the benefits. Mark and Kaylah-Blayr often go for short runs, particularly when it’s wet. “We’re not ‘built’ to run, so three kms is good for us. Sticking to short runs ensures we don’t injure ourselves when we lose form from fatigue!”
Circuit training can be a great way to build strength and improve cardio fitness outdoors. You can visit an outdoor fitness park, or simply set up your own stations. Mark and Kaylah-Blayr often use their at-home SMART TECH equipment to set up a multi-station circuit outside. Exercises like bench presses, shoulder presses and squats are all firm favorites.
LES MILLS On Demand gives you access to 1000+ workouts that you can do any time, anywhere – so it’s a perfect option for outside exercise.