A good old fashion run on a treadmill has a lot to offer. It’s predictable, climate-controlled and convenient. You can get your workout in regardless of what the weather is like outside or what time of day it is. Plus, you can watch TV while exercising, which can be an especially appealing idea if you get bored during your workouts. That control is increased if you own your own equipment and don’t have to compete for a space at the gym.
But taking off out the door and running down the road or on a trail has it’s on unique set of benefits. What advantages does an outdoor workout offer over staying inside? Are there any reasons to stick to the treadmill?
The first, and potentially the most surprising, benefit of exercising outside is that it tends to be considerably more difficult. Natural terrain changes in a way that even the best treadmill would have trouble mimicking. For example, running downhill challenges your muscles in a completely different way then flat or uphill running. But you’re unlikely to experience a downhill run on a treadmill.
A more subtle resistance is also at work outdoors: the wind. Although you may not be aware of it, the wind can be a steady force working against your balance and strength. Several studies have shown that runners and cyclists work harder and burn more calories outdoors then indoors due to these factors.
Also, some studies have shown that running outside encourages a better stride. People run in a more natural way when not on a treadmill which could reduce the risk of injury.
Most of the benefits of an open-air workout, though, are psychological. One large review of 11 studies was compiled in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in an effort to compare the behavioral effects indoor and outdoor workouts. Across the board, it was seen that people who exercised outside enjoyed their experience more. Because of this, the subjects had more energy after the workout and stated that they felt less stressed or anxious. These positive feelings meant that the outdoor exercisers were more willing to workout again than their indoor counterparts.
But don’t get rid of your treadmill or cancel your gym membership yet. There’s still good reason to choose indoor workouts as well. As previously discussed, exercising inside gives you greater control over almost all aspects of your workout. Hot, humid weather can put you at risk for dehydration or overheating. Rain and snow could also put you in danger of suffering a serious injury.
You may also be uncomfortable with running at night or even as the sun is setting but, if this is the only time you have, it would be helpful to have access to a treadmill.
As with many things in the fitness realm, it’s best to keep your options open and incorporate some variety into your workouts. Enjoy the sun and some extra vitamin D when you can but try to have an indoor option available just in case.
Have you enjoyed the benefits of exercising outside? Please share your tips and experience in the comments.