Sure, it’s cold outside, but that’s no excuse to avoid exercise. With COVID-19 still raging, many people are steering clear of indoor exercise spaces, where it’s hard to maintain social distancing, and taking their workout outdoors.
There are unexpected perks from braving the cold. “Exercising outdoors provides all of the physical benefits that we get from indoor exercise — cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, and endurance — but we also get many other important benefits,” says Dr. Morgan Busko, attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, who also participates in outdoor endurance activities like Ironman triathlons.
Just being in the sun increases your body’s creation of vitamin D, which protects you from a host of medical problems, says Dr. Busko, who is also an assistant professor of primary care sports at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. And exercising outdoors may provide a special psychological boost.
“There are studies that show that exercising in nature actually increases the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and natural endorphins that are released through the body,” says Dr. Busko. “If you do the same exact workout outdoors versus indoors, you’re getting a bigger dose of these neuromuscular transmitters that promote a happy mood.”
Outdoor exercise may also provide a better workout. “When you are outdoors, you don’t realize that you’re tackling hills or uneven trails, as opposed to being on a machine in the gym, where you may stay at the same resistance or level of intensity for the entire the workout,” says Dr. Busko.
You may even burn more calories. “The body has to expend more energy just to keep your body temperature neutral,” says Dr. Busko. And because you can change your route, outdoor exercise is apt to be less boring and thus less of a chore. “Outdoor workouts are more invigorating and stimulate us in ways that we don’t get when we’re in indoor gyms and exercise spaces.”
To make the most of outdoor workouts in the next few months, follow these steps: