As great as the gym is, it can get stale. “When you’re inside and you’re used to the same environment, it does get a little bit boring and a little redundant,” says Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York. But there’s an easy fix to your workout rut: taking it outside.
Outdoor workouts are accessible, typically free, and refreshing. “Being outside allows me to take a break from the world behind a screen and get my steps in after sitting all day,” says Sally N., a fifth-year student from Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. “Many people go to the gym and sit at machines, mimicking the same position they may be in while working, studying, etc.,” says Mitch B., a third-year student at Trinity University. “[Outdoor workouts] expose your body to new positions and new activities that it would otherwise not experience.”
Along with the mind and body benefits that come with any type of physical activity, outdoor workouts also come with their own bonus perks—like mindfulness, says Tamir. “People are much more at ease when they’re outside, so it’s a better stress reliever. It definitely helps you boost your mood by being outside.”
The research backs him up. A review of 11 studies published in Environmental Science & Technology found that doing a workout in nature boosts your mood, ups your energy, and increases feelings of joy more than doing the same activity indoors. A 2017 study published in PLOS One added the finding that outdoor workouts can also feel easier, even when they’re just as intense as your usual gym routine. Researchers split participants into three groups: treadmill walkers, outdoor hikers, and a control group who did no exercise at all. As with previous research, the hikers reported feeling more energized and happy than those who spent time on the treadmill, and they also reported feeling calmer and less fatigued.
Ready to ditch the gym grind? Take your workout outside this summer with these 10 activities.
Ultimate Frisbee isn’t the run-of-the-mill Frisbee at the park you remember from childhood—it’s a serious workout. Ultimate was developed by high school students in the ’60s. Think of it like a high-energy cross between soccer and football that’s played with a Frisbee. It involves a lot of running, but you’ll be having too much fun to notice.
Escape a zombie attack—you won’t even realize you’re getting a killer workout—or get splashed with colored powder in a 5K that feels like a party. Themed runs, from Tough Mudders to paint runs to undie runs, are an entertaining way to get moving. “My friends and I enjoy these—it’s more fun than [it is] work,” says Sarah K., a student at Defiance College in Ohio.
If you’re looking for more of a “save the planet” theme, plogging (picking up litter while jogging) is another fun—and eco-friendly—way to get a little outdoor exercise. Unlike most themed runs, plogging is completely free. All you need is a trash bag and gloves before you head out on your next run. Look for plogging meet-ups in your city or start your own.
Skateboarding is set to make its debut at the Olympics. What better time to get inspired?
If skateboarding feels too intimidating, strap on a pair of Rollerblades. “Rollerblading is definitely making a comeback. I’m kind of a clumsy person, so I don’t make a point of speed-skating down the sidewalks, but the motion is smooth and the breeze feels great,” says Reilly G., a student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
If you like being on the water, grab a paddle. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking both challenge your balance and core strength, and help activate all your major muscle groups. “It’s very soothing to hear the rush of water moving to fill the air bubble where the paddle was,” says John G., a student at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga. If you want more of a challenge, try SUP yoga—not as easy as it looks on Instagram.
You don’t need to be superhuman to scale surfaces. “Rock climbing gives you a huge sense of accomplishment when you can complete a tough route you have been working on,” says Kirsten J., a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. “It also forces you to build muscles you never realize you have—I never thought about building my finger strength until I started rock climbing. It just brings a totally different form of being active to my life.” If heights aren’t your thing, try bouldering: climbing close to the ground on a low-lying rock (or rock wall at a climbing gym).
Hiking and mountain biking are great workouts on their own—not to mention excellent ways to explore national, state, or even local parks. “Hiking helps take away some stress from school and work,” says Evan K., a second-year graduate student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
If a full hike feels like too big of an undertaking, simply spending time on the trails can deliver benefits. Research on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” (spending time in wooded areas), has shown physical and emotional health benefits. A 2019 review of studies found that forest bathing is particularly potent for reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. “Breathing clean air and being away from the noise and hustle of a city is very rejuvenating,” says Corinne F., a second-year graduate student at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Yoga is a super-easy workout to take outside since it’s equipment-free. Bring your mat to your backyard, balcony, a local park, or the beach and do your sun salutations the way they were intended (you know, in the sun).
More and more cities are installing outdoor gyms in local parks, along running trails, or even right on the beach. You can get the same workout you would at the gym, but this feels much more like a playground. Think pullup bars, monkey bars, abs benches, and running tracks. “You can do a lot of body weight exercises, which are really good for the joints,” says Tamir.
No outdoor gyms in your city? Try this workout routine that you can do at an actual playground.
Sometimes, you just want to keep it simple. A good old-fashioned outdoor run or walk with friends is a great way to reduce stress and get some cardio. “I enjoy walking outside,” says Bonnie S., a fourth-year graduate student at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. “It’s a way to de-stress and decompress after working and attending class all day. I find the fresh air and physical activity is almost meditative.”
Bonus: An outdoor run can actually be better for your body than hitting the treadmill. “Running outside creates a natural cycle of your legs,” explains Tamir. When you’re on a treadmill, the belt actually pulls your feet back with every stride, “which changes your gait and can cause problems down the line.” Running outside can also feel a lot less isolating. “It’s fun to see all the other people running alongside me and [it] encourages me to keep going,” says Lauren P., a third-year graduate student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
No matter how you choose to get moving outdoors, the most important thing is just getting out there. Need some motivation? Use these science-backed tips to find the drive you need to stay active.[school_resource sh101resources=’no’ category=’healthservices,recreationcenter,wellnesspromotion’]GET HELP OR FIND OUT MORE
Coon, J. T., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., et al. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental well being than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), 1761–1772.
Farrow, M. R., & Washburn, K. (2019, May 16). A review of field experiments on the effect of forest bathing on anxiety and heart rate variability. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. doi: 10.1177/2164956119848654
Godbey, G. (2009). Outdoor recreation, health, and wellness: Understanding and enhancing the relationship. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.1408694
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Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., et al. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 15(1), 18–26. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835
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CampusWell survey, June 2020.
USA Ultimate. (2020). What is ultimate? Retrieved from https://www.usaultimate.org/about/ultimate/
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