Kelsey Graham by Kelsey Graham

Last Updated June 14, 2024 (originally published March 27, 2017) 

You know that exercise provides many mental and physical health benefits. What if a simple change in location could exponentially increase those benefits? 

Turns out, it can. 

Outdoor exercise, also known as green exercise, combines two health-enhancing activities: moving your body and getting outdoors. And the results are exceptional. If you’re looking to enhance your mood, save money and avoid the time and trouble of getting to the gym, look no further than the great outdoors. 

Here are five benefits of getting your sweat on with Mother Nature. 

1. Improved Mood and Reduced Depression

Outdoor exercise provides a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. Moving outdoors has been shown to reduce anger and depression and improve mood. Exposure to sunlight enhances vitamin D production, which may be partially responsible for this mood-enhancing effect. You don’t have to run a marathon or crush an outdoor boot camp to reap the benefit. Even low-intensity activities, like walking or gardening, will do. For a quick afternoon pick-me-up, head outside for a 15-minute walk break, and return to work feeling energized. 

2. Enhanced Self-esteem

Research shows that as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise can improve self-esteem. Any outdoor location will do, but being near greenery or water enhances this effect. Interestingly, low- to moderate-intensity physical activity shows greater improvements in self-esteem than high-intensity outdoor exercise. Activities shown to improve self-esteem include walking, cycling, horseback riding, fishing and gardening. A regular dose of outdoor activity can help boost the already powerful esteem-enhancing effect of exercise. 

3. Low Cost

People often cite cost as one of the biggest factors prohibiting regular exercise. The outdoor environment provides a low-cost solution for exercise enthusiasts and trainers alike. While high gym or studio prices can be a barrier to exercise, outdoor venues such as low-traffic neighborhood streets and local parks offer free space for physical activity. Trainers can benefit from these spaces as well. A local permit and small fee are often all that’s needed to hold training sessions in public use areas, resulting in reduced overhead and increased earnings. 

4. Ease of Access

Lack of time is another common barrier to exercise. Navigating traffic, parking garages and crowded locker rooms adds additional time needed to be active. Taking advantage of the great outdoors can reduce these time constraints. Local hills, tracks and neighborhood streets provide ideal walking, running and cycling settings, while nearby parks offer ideal venues for resistance training, boot camps and yoga classes. Many outdoor areas include benches, trees, inclined roads and even designated exercise equipment, allowing for a variety of resistance-training exercises. 

5. Connecting with Mother Nature

One of the greatest benefits of outdoor exercise lies in the opportunity to connect with Mother Nature and the people and places in your community. Finish your bike ride at a local coffee shop, wave hello to your neighbors as you jog the streets or set up a weekly walking group with friends and neighbors. Exercising outdoors can help you feel grounded, deepen your connection to your environment and enhance your appreciation for the beauty around you. 

Outdoor Exercise Precautions

Not all outdoor spaces are suitable for exercise. Traffic, weather conditions and safety are all things to consider before heading outdoors. Carefully assess your outdoor space to find a setting that is safe and meets your exercise needs. Depending on the conditions, sun protection, a hat, warm clothes or protective rain gear may be necessary. 

Get Out and Go!

Don’t let the prospect of outdoor activity scare you. If you’re new to exercise or just getting back into it, start with short exercise sessions and lighter intensity. Even five minutes will do. Whether it’s completing a circuit workout at your local park, mountain biking through nearby trails or walking your kids to the bus, any movement counts. All you have to do is get out and go! 

Or, if you are a health coach or exercise professional looking to add outdoor fitness options to your list of services, be sure to check out Shared-Use Agreements for Outdoor Fitness (worth 0.1 ACE CECs), which will take you step by step through the process of delivering physical activity and exercise programs in parks and other public spaces.

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