Why you should ditch the gym for the running track

During the winter, exercising outdoors seems like such a chore. It’s so difficult to leave your warm house and go out into the cold in order to run, and doing so can be dangerous due to bad weather or slippery ice. It’s much better to go to the gym and do all your exercising indoors, right?

Well, the weather has improved and getting your running shoes on for a jog outside can be one of the best forms of exercise there is. While you could stay inside – moving between work, home and the gym without really experiencing the outdoors – some fresh air is a much better option.

In fact, it could be even more beneficial for you than a gym session. Exercising outdoors can lead to significant boosts in your physical and mental health beyond just the calories you burn.

You’ll work harder

That’s right: going for a run will give you a better workout than the equivalent workout on a treadmill. This might seem counterintuitive, but there are a few scientific reasons for it. For example, one study found that the slightly uneven surface of a road means your body is having to correct your gait when you run outside, which burns calories.

Then there’s the fact that the outdoors is windy, which provides extra resistance. In fact, research found that the difference the air resistance makes is the same as the difference between running on a flat treadmill and running at a one per cent incline. Experiment at the gym and see if it makes a difference to your workout.

Being outside also has an impact on your mood – more on that later – which makes you more likely to feel good about your run, and willing to go for more down the line. Then, of course, there’s the fact that you can’t easily give up a run halfway through; you still have to get back home, after all, so you’ll at least get a good walk out of it!

You’ll boost your health

When you go for a run, you’re unlikely to choose a route that takes you along a main road, through a car park and past the local factory. Even if you live in the middle of a city, you’ll be able to find a park, canal or some other plant-filled place to run in. This is very good for the body, especially the immune system.

Studies have found that exposure to this green space increases overall health, and part of this is that it boosts the immune system. Your body has to react to a different environment, with plenty of new microbes, which helps build up a good database of helpful antibodies.

There has also been a link found between exercising outdoors and lower blood pressure, which is another key factor in keeping yourself healthy. Then there’s the simple fact that you’re likely to exercise more if you do so outside, making you fitter and less prone to issues like heart disease and obesity in later life.

You’ll get a dose of vitamin D

While the sun might be shining outside, you aren’t going to be getting any of its benefits if you’re stuck inside on a treadmill; and we’re not talking about a great tan, either. The sun is responsible for one of the most important chemicals your body needs to survive: vitamin D.

This nutrient is needed to keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy, which it does in part by regulating the amount of calcium in the body. You can get this from food like oily fish and egg yolks, but the best source for it is the sun, as your body creates vitamin D on the skin when in direct sunlight.

This means that going out for a run gives you a much bigger dose of this crucial nutrient than you would get from the walk between your car and the gym, making you healthier overall. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still use sunscreen, particularly if there aren’t many clouds in the sky.

You’ll feel happier

While your physical health is definitely important, mental health is something that often gets overlooked. However, exercising outdoors is something that can have a significant benefit in this area, making it an even better option if you are feeling down or depressed.

Any kind of exercise helps to release hormones like dopamine and serotonin, which make you feel good, but being outdoors while you do so has a larger effect. Several studies have shown that outdoor exercise gives you a greater sense of satisfaction, happiness and self-esteem than indoor exercise.

More research has found that people who exercise outdoors have decreased feelings of anger, tension and depression. They also had more energy overall. Going for a run, therefore, is a great mental pick-me-up, especially if you commit to exercising outdoors in the long term.