The Magic of Outdoor Exercise

Why is training outside so beneficial?

I had an observation yesterday that really got me thinking. I finished up a strength training workout in the gym and noticed that there were at least 10 people walking or jogging on the treadmills inside the gym. Good for them, right? Well, the reason it had me perplexed is that it was 78 degrees outside without a single cloud in the sky. 

While walking and running indoors on a treadmill is certainly better than sitting around and doing nothing, it’s a great example of having the wrong mindset when it comes to exercise. There’s more to it than just burning calories. If the weather outside is terrible, indoor walking and running is totally acceptable. Although you certainly build some mental fortitude and resiliency by training in inclement weather, it’s certainly not necessary to do it all the time.


Inform the People!

The issue, in my opinion, is that many people don’t understand the benefits associated with being outside in the sun while they exercise, or even just being outside in general. My intent with this blog post is to educate more people on why they should opt for outdoor training when feasible. 

The modern world in developed countries has been engineered to keep us inside. Average Americans spend less than 8% of their day outside! In order to spend more time outdoors, we must make more of an effort and carve out time during our day to do so. Also, it also goes without saying that more people need to exercise. Why not do both of them together?

“But you were training inside!” Yes, I was weight training inside. If the equipment I needed for weight training was available outside, I would’ve done that instead. Keeping weight equipment outdoors significantly reduces its longevity. However, I almost always walk to cool down after I lift, and it’s almost always outside. Certain workouts require certain equipment, but walking, hiking and running do not.

If you need to strength train indoors, I highly encourage you to continue doing so. But If your goal for the day is just to get some movement in (IE walk or run) and the sun is out and the weather is perfect, doing it outside will enable you to reap many additional benefits aside from just burning calories. 


Benefits of Exercising Outside

Benefits of outdoor exercise that you won’t experience with indoor exercise include better sleep and increased vitamin D levels due to sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency (the other pandemic) affects over half the world’s population! You’ll also experience improved mood, mental health and cognitive ability due to being in nature. Finally, being outside increases the need to be more present because the terrain changes outdoors and you’ll need to be aware of it in order to avoid misstepping. We live in a world of distraction, and moments of total presence can be life changing. Also, if you have dogs, bring them along and they’ll love you (even more than they already do) for it. Dogs need exercise just like we do. People who neglect walking their dogs are becoming more common (especially where I live), and it’s extremely unfortunate.


But Isn't the Sun Bad?

A very important message regarding sun exposure: Try to avoid wearing sunglasses for at least 20 minutes during your time in the sun. Also, if you lather yourself with sunscreen immediately before your skin is exposed to the sun, you’re canceling (or greatly diminishing) your chances to benefit from it. 


That’s not good for you either. BUT, I like to make sun exposure analogous to training. If you haven’t trained in a while and you go train too hard, you’ll be sore for days. Likewise, if you’ve been out of the sun for a while and you get too much, you’ll burn. Just as your body and muscles adapt when you ease into training, when you ease into getting a bit more sun each day, your skin will adapt to the exposure. 


Xenoestrogens: Worsening your Health Through Sunscreen Use

People who get skin cancer tend to spend much of their life overdoing sun exposure when they're not ready for it. Additionally, most sunscreens have several ingredients (specifically oxybenzone, homosalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, and retinyl palmatate,) that lead to other types of cancer (your skin absorbs almost anything you put on it). 

These are examples of xenoestrogens, which can lead to premature cell death in humans. They’ve also been shown to decrease fertility in men and also increase progesterone which can cause development of feminine characteristics. In women, a combination of several xenoestrogens can lead to breast cancer, fat storage in the hips and thighs, abnormal menstruation, increased PMS, among other unwanted effects. 


Slow and Steady

The best practice is to slowly build your sun tolerance over time and avoid burning while also trying to avoid sunscreen. If you inevitably need to spend more time in the sun, and you cannot cover yourself up with clothing, opt for a zinc oxide or titanium oxide based sunscreen that only has a few ingredients (reading skin care ingredients is just as important as food ingredients). 

I am not a dermatologist or a doctor, but I do believe they’re the main culprit as to why people fear the sun. Do some of your own research before covering yourself (or your kids) up with Banana Boat at first thought of the sun.


Outdoor Workout Ideas

You can do more than just walk outside. As the weather becomes more favorable as we move into spring and summer, here are some other ideas for outdoor workouts:

-Run or weighted hiking (Rucking)

-Bring your garage gym equipment into your driveway or yard

-Drag a sled through your neighborhood (people will think you’re insane, which is good!)

-Carry heavy objects around your yard or neighborhood

-Bring mobile cardio equipment outside (ensure your gym staff is cool with it)

-Do hill sprints

-Bring a kettle bell outside for a circuit

-Jump rope

-Do manual labor more intensely (mow the lawn, chop, move and stack wood, carry things in a wheelbarrow)

-Lunge as far as you can without stopping. Do this every week and try to get further each time.

-Any bodyweight workout. If you have a TRX, hang it from a tree.

-Swim or do a pool workout

Use Your Imagination

There are countless options, so be creative with it! It also doesn’t have to be done daily. The main point of this post is just to encourage you to think about exercise as more than just a way to expend calories. If you’re able to do 1-2 workouts per week outside (even if it’s just a long walk), after a few weeks you’ll be hooked and wonder why you didn’t start doing it sooner.

Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your outdoor workout go-to’s! Let me know in the comments below.

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