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6 Science-Backed Reasons Outdoor Exercise Is So Much Better For You

Leigh Weingus
July 31, 2017
Leigh Weingus
By Leigh Weingus
mbg Contributor
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist writing about health, wellness, feminism, entertainment, personal finance, and more. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis.
Photo by Christine Hewitt / mbg Creative
July 31, 2017
Gyms and studio fitness classes can be expensive, but exercising doesn't have to be. Run a few miles around your neighborhood, take on that trail you’ve been meaning to try, or flow through a yoga sequence at a nearby park. There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re outside and having fun.

Who needs the gym when you have the great outdoors? While there's no question that there's a time and place for the treadmill and the elliptical, there's nothing quite like surrounding yourself with greenery and breathing in fresh air. It clears your head, improves your happiness, and helps you drop stress like nothing else.

Here are six science-backed reasons taking your workout outside is so much better for you:

1. You'll get happier.

Think you need a lush forest or a nearby beach to reap the benefits of outdoor exercise? Think again. A 2015 study out of Stanford University found that students who walked through a campus park for an hour were less anxious than those who didn't, and a study published last year found that simply looking at pictures1 of greenery improves happiness. In other words, all you need is a few trees and a sturdy pair of shoes for a mood boost. Plus, people who exercise outside actually enjoy it more.

2. You'll get a stronger workout in.

While running inside on a treadmill is infinitely better than not exercising at all, you'll likely get a stronger workout in if you take it outside. In a study2 on running indoors versus outdoors, researchers found that outdoor exercisers exert more energy to cover the same amount of distance as treadmill runners, indicating that if the goal is physical fitness, outdoor workouts are the way to go.

3. Your immune system will get stronger.

If you haven't heard of forest bathing, you're missing out. The decades-old Japanese practice encourages people to get outside and take a walk in nature not just for the mental health benefits but because it improves the immune system. "Trees shower (or bathe) themselves in an antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial compound called phytoncides," explains Ben Page founder of Shinrin Yoku LA. "This is how trees combat disease. When humans inhale these phytoncides, it triggers the human body to produce a specialized white blood cell called NK cells, or Natural Killer cells." These NK cells then attack cancerous and tumorous growths in the body, improving immune strength.

4. You'll improve your heart health and lower your blood pressure.

Want to live longer? Outdoor exercise can help with that. A study published3 in PubMed found that immersing yourself in nature lowers cortisol, pulse rate, and blood pressure. That's an impressive fix.

5. Your social life will skyrocket.

Here's one benefit of outdoor exercise that often gets ignored: If you're exercising outside, you're more likely to do it in a group. Think hikes, running groups, and after-dinner walks with your partner. When one Austrian study found that people enjoy outdoor workouts more, psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, psychotherapist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, said this finding was probably related to the fact that people in the study worked out with others. "Social interactions also lessen stress and increase happiness."

6. You're less likely to get injured.

Here's a surprising one: People who take their exercise outside are less likely to suffer from injury. The repetitive pounding on a treadmill with no change in terrain can be tough on the body, leading to overuse injuries. When people run outside, they're more likely to2 flex their ankles more and be met with downhill terrain, leading to stronger, more resilient muscles overall.

Inspired to take your workout outdoors? Read up on how to start running again when all you've been doing is yoga.

Leigh Weingus author page.
Leigh Weingus

Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.