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Is Exercising Outdoors Better For You?

A man and woman do planks outdoors.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com

The summer sun brings a fresh desire to spend time outdoors! Whether that be to take a stroll with your dog, enjoy a volleyball match with friends or go for a swim, increased time outdoors has multiple health benefits, both mentally and physically. You might be wondering if you should spend more time exercising outdoors.

Here we will unpack the benefits of outdoor exercise and provide some guidance on when you should and shouldn’t consider transitioning your indoor fitness routine under the sun.

What Are the Benefits of Exercising Outdoors?

There are multiple benefits to choosing to shift your exercise to an outdoor environment. From cost-effective fitness to boosting self-esteem, working out outside has proven benefits.

Free and Accessible

The most obvious benefit to an outdoor exercise regimen is that it is free and accessible! Even apartment dwellers who have limited access to green space can generally locate a nearby park to take advantage of this perk.

Burn More Calories

Exercising outdoors increases your heart rate and body temperature rapidly, causing you to burn more calories quickly. For this reason, working out outside is seen as a healthy choice for your cardiac health, and even weight loss goals, if you have them.

It’s important to keep in mind that active calorie burn (the estimated number of calories you burn during a certain exercise) depends on various factors such as the intensity, duration, and type of exercise, as well as individual factors like weight, fitness level, and metabolism.

While the heated environment of the outdoors during summer months is a huge expediter for burning calories, there are several other factors to take into consideration.

Heat exhaustion and dehydration are the two of our biggest precautions to take into consideration before beginning or continuing your outdoor exercise routine.

Heat exhaustion that is exercise-related occurs when your body stops being able to sweat out extra heat made as a result of your exercise. Generally, heat exhaustion makes your temperature rise past what is healthy for your body.

The same health experts shared that dehydration is another issue that goes hand in hand with heat exhaustion and occurs when you don’t drink enough fluids during your workout. When heat exhaustion and dehydration occur simultaneously, you can pass out.

Natural Antidepressant

Exercising outdoors also provides optimal benefits for your mental health. Sunlight exposure boosts serotonin production in your central nervous system, as well as in your skin, according to recent studies. Since serotonin is considered one of the “happy chemicals” in our brains, working out outside has similar benefits to taking anti-depressants.

Boosts Self Esteem

The influx of serotonin as a result of exercise in nature also boosts your self-esteem. Studies have shown that people of all ages showed improvements in both self-esteem and mood after working out outdoors. Interestingly enough, the same study concluded that exercising outdoors and near water boosted these psychological factors even more than those who exercised outside without being near a body of water.

When Should You Not Exercise Outdoors?

A man exercises outdoors as the sun sets.
StratfordProductions/Shutterstock.com

Being mindful of your local heat index is very important prior to scheduling your workout sessions outdoors. Working out in the early morning before the hottest part of the day, or closer to sunset, is advised and the safest way to get started.

Health experts do not advise working out outside when the heat index hits hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In colder months, it is also not advised to work out in temperatures that dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Outdoor Exercises Are Best?

A person walks along a path wearing leggings, tennis shoes, and holding a water bottle.
Bignai/Shutterstock.com

While taking a long walk outside on a sunny day has shown to reap all of the benefits described above, we have selected a few strength-based exercises to challenge your whole body’s fitness. You can do all of these in place in your backyard or at your local park.

We have chosen these exercises for your summer workout because all you need is your mat or a grassy patch. No other equipment is required!

Mountain Climbers

  • Begin in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body in a straight line.
  • Engage your core muscles and lift your right knee toward your chest, then quickly switch and bring your left knee toward your chest.
  • Continue alternating legs in a “running” motion while keeping your upper body stable.
  • Maintain a steady pace and aim for 30-60 seconds of continuous movement.
  • Remember to keep your hips down and your shoulders directly over your hands.

Plank Jumping Jacks

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body in a straight line.
  • Engage your core and jump both feet out wide, similar to a traditional jumping jack motion.
  • Quickly jump your feet back together to return to the starting position.
  • Continue performing jumping jacks for 30-60 seconds, focusing on maintaining a strong plank position.
  • Modify the exercise by stepping one foot out at a time instead of jumping if needed.

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Side Plank Hip Dips

  • Lie on your side with your forearm on the ground, and your elbow directly under your shoulder, with your legs extended.
  • Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight lateral line from your head to your feet.
  • Lower your hips toward the ground without touching it, then lift them back up.
  • Repeat this dipping motion for 10-15 repetitions on each side, focusing on engaging your oblique (side core) muscles.
  • Keep your core engaged and avoid letting your hips sag or your shoulders collapse or round forward.

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Squats

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if you’re sitting into a chair.
  • Keep your chest lifted and your weight in your heels as you lower down.
  • Go as low as you comfortably can or until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Push through your heels to return to the starting position.
  • Aim for 10-15 repetitions, focusing on maintaining proper form and engaging your leg and glute muscles.

How to Exercise Outdoors

Exercising outdoors is as easy as opening your door and going for a walk, but there are a few things you’ll need. Obviously, a game plan for the type of exercise you want to do is key, but here are some other things you might need to grab before exercising outdoors.

Water Bottle

As we explained earlier, working outside does increase your chances of experiencing heat exhaustion and dehydration. You can easily beat the heat by investing in a large stainless steel water bottle to keep your water chilled.

Medical Professionals at Piedmont specifically recommend sipping 4 to 6 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes while working out outside.

Shoes

We also recommend investing in a solid pair of ergonomic shoes to provide optimal support and shock absorption for your foot in turfy environments. You will want to consider purchasing a shoe that is lightweight so that your feet can breathe in the heat.

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Sun Protection

Skin experts recommend thoroughly applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, especially with prolonged sun exposure from working out. Wearing sun-protective clothing, if you can bear it, will also help you do your skin a favor in the long run.

Bug Repellent

Taking some bug repellant also might work in your favor depending on where you live. We recommend having some on hand to ensure that the annoyance that comes with having pests in your face doesn’t stop you from finishing your workout.


Even if you have to wake up at the crack of dawn to beat the heat and get in your outdoor exercise, it might just be work the routine switch.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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