More runners on the sidewalk, more cyclists on the street, more pick-up games on outdoor courts—the sure signs of spring are here. And what do all these asphalt athletes have in common? They all know one thing: Nothing beats a workout under the warmth of the sun, and for good reason.
The benefits of outdoor training certainly aren’t limited to cardio workouts. All you need is a park bench. Pushups (wide and narrow grips) and bench dips work the entire upper body. Bench jump-ups and split squats (put your back foot on top of the bench) provide a killer workout for the quads, hammies, glutes and core. Tap into your inner child by hopping onto a kid’s jungle gym to punch-proof your core, or grab a set of monkey bars for a superset of pullsups and leg raises.
Sunlight activates the production of a special brain chemical called serotonin. Serotonin has been shown to boost mood, reduce anxiety and produce a sense of calm and focus in people. In fact, exercising outdoors multiplies that serotonin surge because performing any aerobic exercise itself will trigger serotonin to be released by brain cells. Think back to when you finished a 10K run, an uphill bike ride, or a hard game of outdoor b-ball. Yea, you were exhausted, but also relaxed, refreshed, revived. That’s a double shot of serotonin flooding your brain with feel good hormones.
Sunny skies trigger the body to produce vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” In turn, that vitamin D triggers an increase in the body’s store of calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. More recent research has confirmed that Vitamin D is also essential to support a healthy immune system.
Training outside stimulates the senses improving focus and concentration. Whether you’re running on an urban sidewalk or cycling on a country road, the constantly changing outdoor environment enhances the workout experience and reduces the monotony of training indoors. Training outdoors can improve focus because natural environments have unique, diverse, and novel scenery to capture our attention, a 1995 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found.
Due to the wind factor, an outdoor workout also burns more calories than the same workout when performed indoors. Wind serves as a natural resistance against the body, forcing you to work harder and, in turn, burn more calories. Treadmill runners use less energy to cover the same “distance” as runners training outdoors, a study conducted at the University of Brighton in the UK found. These benefits aren’t limited to running either. Unsurprisingly, wind resistance demands more energy over during 25 miles of cycling outdoors than the same distance covered on an indoor bike, a 2007 report published in the Journal of Sport Sciences observed.
Outdoor training may even reduce your risk of injury. Indoor treadmills offer no variety of surface textures to challenge, strengthen and stabilize the core. The repetitive motion of training on a flat surface can be tough on the ankles. People flex their ankles more when they run outside, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanicsshowed. And unlike running on a treadmill, runners encounter downhill slopes, contributing to stronger joints and muscles.