Top 10 Reasons the Outdoors Beats the Gym

hiking elm creek
The outdoors invites us into beautiful places like this—it beats a treadmill!

The Outdoors outperforms a gym in so many ways. And I’ll freely admit, I’m biased. I strongly dislike exercising inside. I always have.

And I’m not against gyms. I know people who love going to the gym. I have friends who own a gym. I was a member of a gym for awhile. But, when it comes to overall health, the outdoors wins out.

Let’s look at 10 reasons the outdoors beats the gym:

1. Fresh, Healthy Air

Interesting thing: I wrote up the notes for this article way before COVID came along. And we’ve had a practical demonstration of this for the past few months: when you exercise outside, you breathe in fresh air. When you exercise in a gym, you breathe in recycled air.

That’s why we’re asked to wear masks inside and it’s OK to not wear masks outside.

Early on in our coronavirus stay-at-home era, I attended a webinar with Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller. She’s an OB-Gyn and the medical advisor to AllTrails.com.

Dr. Hackenmiller said, on the webinar: “Chemicals in the plants and trees, Vitamin D from the sunshine, bacteria in the soil…all boost our immunity. The benefits of nature are more important than ever.”

2. The Outdoor Environment is More Challenging

I still remember a long training run of 10 miles with three others, back in my running days. All four of us had been training for a half-marathon, and decided to do this long run together.

Of the four of us, one had done all her training on a treadmill in the gym. The rest of us had done all our training outside.

On this 10-mile run, our treadmill-trained friend was overwhelmed by the added elements of hills, terrain and wind. It was two completely different running experiences for her.

Our body has to work harder when we face the elements, uneven surfaces, dirt or grass, snow, water, uphills and downhills. That’s a good thing!

snowshoer in bunker park
The crisp winter air is invigorating and the added challenge of snow-covered terrain gives us a great workout

3. Emotional Benefits of Being Outside

Of course, we get emotional benefits from exercise alone. But when we exercise outside, we get the added benefits of being in or around nature, too.

These benefits include things like less anxiety, stress and depression…improved moods…better problem-solving skills…more creativity.

Didn’t know nature gives us all those benefits? Read: Why Nature is So Good for Us.

4. Natural Beauty Impacts Us, Too

I don’t have studies to back this up, but I experienced it just this morning on my 3-mile walk around my neighborhood. The beauty of the sun shining on the clouds made me stop, look and be thankful.

You’ve experienced it, too—a waterfall, the lake, wildflowers, fall colors. Its beauty speaks to our emotions and spirit. When we get to see the local wildlife it’s an added bonus.

I’ve never been inspired like that by a gym wall, no how many motivational posters were on it.

kayaker on st croix river
Awe-inspiring beauty awaits us in so many different places

5. More Locations to Choose From

When we choose the outdoors as our gym, we’re not limited to one building or a chain of buildings. We have every park, every road and trail, every waterway with a public access open to us.

Most days I exercise in my own neighborhood for convenience and to save time. But at least once a week I like to do my “work out” (whether it’s a hike, bike, paddle, ski, snowshoe…) at a destination I have to drive to.

I love the variety. And even when I’m in the same place, changes in the weather makes the same trail different (and since we live in Minnesota, the weather changes all the time!). Changes in the seasons makes the same park different.

No worries about missing our work outs while on vacation either. Just find the closest park or trail and we’re set.

6. Greater Variety of (Fun) Activities

Hiking, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, rock climbing, canoeing, archery, backpacking, horseback riding, ice climbing. The outdoors provides us with a vast array of activity options.

I love that I can paddle in the summer and do snow sports in the winter. I can bike most months of the year and hike all year.

7. Our Friends Don’t Need a Membership

We don’t need anyone’s permission or a guest pass to bring our friends or family along! If you have a park permit for your car, bring along a carload.

Invite a friend or two or three to come along. It’s OK.

cross country skier at wild river state park
Why limit your outdoor activities to one or two seasons? Get out there and enjoy it!

8. We Get to Enjoy the Uniqueness of Each Season

Exercising outdoors year-round helps us appreciate and enjoy every season. Not every day is a good day to be outside in our climate. But most days, it’s entirely doable…and there are many, many days when it’s pure delight.

Each season has its charms and its challenges. It keeps us curious, grateful, appreciative and on our toes, in turn.

I’ve always told people this about our winters: Find an outdoor winter activity or two you love to do, and you’ll start looking forward to winter!

9. It’s Great for the Whole Family

Our kids or grandkids of all ages can join us in our outdoor activities. Babies and toddlers? Get out the stroller or bike buggy. Preschoolers? They can keep up with us on their little bikes while we hike on paved surfaces.

When kids are older and able to learn skills like cross country skiing and kayaking, it can be marvelous family time. It’s not just fun—you’re helping instill in them a love of nature, a love of being active and an appreciation for the outdoors.

10. It’s Cheaper

At least a membership is cheaper!

Some outdoor activities require gear that can get very pricey. BUT, it doesn’t have to. There’s renting, there’s inviting yourself along with friends who have gear, there’s buying used.

An annual park pass here in Minnesota is about $30. I have one for our county parks and one for our state parks. That’s $60. If you buy a pass for a second vehicle you usually get a discount. Maybe $100 total for a year of park passes for two vehicles…for your whole family.

Some gym memberships cost more than that each month per person.

biker on browns creek trail
Fresh air, variety of terrain, wildlife, trees and other plants—it’s all part of the outdoor experience

Seasons of Life are Expected

I understand seasons of life and how they affect our time and flexibility of schedule. There have been times in my life when I had to exercise inside—usually my home, but I had a gym membership for a couple years, too.

Maybe your work schedule has you leaving in the dark and coming home in the dark all winter. I had that for a season of my life, too.

This isn’t to shame anyone into leaving your gym. And if you love going to the gym, by all means, go to the gym! Do what you need to do to stay active and healthy.

Here’s the bottom line: the outdoors is a wonderful place to exercise. It’s ultra-healthy, so enjoyable and easy on the budget.

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Sharon Brodin
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