Last week, as the weather in Boston finally climbed into the low thirties in the morning, and into the fifties and sixties by the afternoon, I was finally motivated to take to the streets and paths that encircle my neighborhood for a run. Still cold, yes, but bearable. As I listened to my breath come in short and uneven spurts, I wondered why I was outside at 6:30 am when I could have just as easily slept in and left for the gym an hour later. By my third mile, I remembered why I sacrificed a bit more sleep in favor of a jaunt in the great outdoors: a visit to the gym or indoor track simply cannot be compared to the experience one invites when exercising outside.
Whether you’re running around Central Park or along suburban streets, you will experience more benefits running outside than you ever would indoors. Not only are you actually covering a measurable distance and incline (as opposed to the imagined stats a treadmill displays), but you’re exposing yourself to the elements, which can add a challenge to an otherwise hum-drum routine. I hope the following benefits will inspire you to take your workout outside of the gym once and a while!
1. You work different muscles.
Unlike treadmill running, which provides a pretty one-dimensional workout for the body, running outside is pretty unpredictable in terms of the incline and decline of the terrain. As such, your body is required to maneuver in ways it wouldn’t otherwise: down a steep hill, over a large tree root, up a few steps. Studies find that outdoor exercisers flex their ankles more and also use different muscles during a typical run. So, if you’re looking to strengthen different muscles, some time spent outside will do you good.
2. You expend more energy.
Have you ever noticed that you feel significantly more tired after a jog outdoors? There’s a reason: one study showed that running outdoors requires more energy expenditure than a treadmill workout. This can be attributed to terrain variation, as described in the last point, but also wind resistance. If you’ve ever tried to run against a headwind, you know much more challenging it can be to maintain your speed.
3. It can be a social or solitary experience.
Running outside is much more versatile in terms of choosing the type of workout you want. For example, lately I’ve been needing more alone time, and so a run in the early morning hours is a perfect time to meditate with my thoughts and experience a peaceful stillness. Other times, however, I’m feeling social and energetic, and a long run with a friend is the perfect outing. To this point, gyms are weird: in some ways, they’re inherently social, with droves of people on the ellipticals or lifting weights. But they can also be rather hostile and alienating, promoting a certain body type and workout regime. It’s nice not to leave that intimidating environment from time to time.
4. It’s a great opportunity for exploring.
Whenever I’m in a new city, it’s hard to fit in all the sites on my agenda, much less all the vegan restaurants I want to try 🙂 As such, one of the first things I like to do upon arriving in a new place is to go for a run. If you have trouble running long distances, I recommend trying this out–when you’re busy exploring the scenery around you, the miles will fly by! If you’re interested in a more structured site-seeing run, check out City Running Tours, which is available in many of the major U.S. cities.
5. Vitamin D exposure.
It’s not just vegans that need to monitor their vitamin D levels. Many studies have shown that Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Instead of increasing your consumption of animal products, you might consider spending more time in the sunshine (but really, even an overcast day can provide you with your daily requirements). During the spring and summer, it’s the optimal time to go for a long, leisurely run before work–your body and mind will thank you!
6. It’s better for training.
If you have plans to run a 5k or marathon, exercising outside will significantly benefit your training. After all, you’re race probably isn’t going to be inside the gym. By braving all kinds of weather, terrains, and obstacles, you’ll make yourself a better racer and feel so much more prepared than you would if your training was exclusively inside.
7. It will boost your confidence.
Even though running in a snow or rainstorm might not be particularly welcoming, you’ll feel pretty awesome when you’re through. There’s just something about being completely soaked that makes me feel totally invincible. I think it boosts my performance throughout the day as I already feel like I conquered something challenging.
8. It’s fun!
Unlike the gym, where the only sources of entertainment are the television and a couple buff guys, an outdoor workout is always unpredictable. There are an infinite number of routes to take, new people and animals to see, and gorgeous scenery to admire. Put simply, you’ll never get bored when you run outside.
Why do you like to run outside?
Also by Molly: How to Do a Loving-Kindness Meditation
Photo by: Mitchell Joyce via Flickr