Article Outdoor exercise – are there real benefits or is it just a preference?

At FiftyFitness I offer an outdoor group exercise service for local over 50s called ‘Get Fit Outdoors’.

My gut feeling is that people who join mainly do so because it’s a personal preference to exercise in the fresh air.

This is the vibe of what outdoor exercisers say to me in conversation, and it’s certainly my preference as a runner.

Trying to cover even a few kilometres on an indoor treadmill is horrendous for me, but I love myself sick running outside.

Doing weights and strength training in the gym, however, suits me just fine.

The thing about my gym though is the HUGE windows with views of the sky, a lovely green playing field and a nearby park.

That view may play a role in my performance of those indoor workouts and there may be more to outdoor exercise than just personal preference for fresh air.

Research shows that there are real benefits for exercising outdoors

As a PhD scientist, I know where to look for valid research and found an interesting article from the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Benefits to Performance and Well-Being of Nature-Based Exercise: A Critical Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Henrique S. Brito, Eliana V. Carraça, António L. Palmeira, José P. Ferreira, Veronica Vleck, and Duarte Araújo. Environmental Science & Technology 2022 56 (1), 62-77. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c05151

Key point about this article

The value of this article is that it’s a study of many studies, a systematic review of 49 published articles and meta-analysis of a subset of 24.

These terms describe research methods used to evaluate and bring together findings from several studies.

Suffice to say that I’m very comfortable to share the findings reported in this article.

‘Nature-based’ exercise – more than just outside

The review study is about ‘nature-based’ exercise because it includes simulated outdoor environments and indoor spaces with natural features along with outdoor activities.

The gym where I have a great view of outside, therefore, may be considered ‘nature-based exercise’.

I certainly enjoy being able to see nature when I’m in the gym, often choosing a machine or a position on the floor so I can look out the window.

Overall conclusion – greater benefits for exercising in nature

The study compared several effects related to both exercise performance and well-being between indoor and nature-based exercise.

The overall finding was that nature-based settings may improve exercise performance.

Outdoor exercisers generally report less perceived fatigue and higher levels of energy and arousal.

Well-being measures such as levels of stress and mood are more positively impacted by nature-based exercise.

Limitations & proposed explanation

The limitations of the analysis are clearly acknowledged by the authors of the article.

One relates to the lack of information about the context of nature-based exercise in the studies analysed, and I’ll say more about this shortly.

The proposed explanation for improved performance is a synergistic effect, where the benefits of exercise are enhanced by doing it in nature-based settings.

Outdoor environments being less predictable and more engaging may also contribute to enhanced exercise performance.

Outdoor exercisers that I know – what do they think?

I recently surveyed FiftyFitness Get Fit Outdoors group exercise participants to gather feedback, learn about what works for people and areas of the service that I could improve.

Big thanks and gratitude to my clients for taking the time to complete the survey. I value your responses and feedback tremendously.

One of the questions asked participants directly about the benefits of outdoor exercise for them:

Do you think there are specific benefits to exercising outdoors? If yes, note what these are for you here.

  • Being outside as I have an indoor desk sitting job, fresh air, new spaces, mentally helpful.
  • I am not a fan of working out indoors – I feel it is too stuffy and crowded. And I love watching the sunsets during our sessions.
  • Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
  • Exercising outdoors is so much nicer than in a gym. You can hear the birds singing as you exercise.
  • It is lovely when the weather is good and the morning sun is warming on the cold mornings.
  • I know there are benefits to exercising outdoors i.e. vitamin D from the sun, being grounded within nature…
  • In a gym I get bored but outside you’re still with other people but in the fresh air feels better.

Rather than identify specific benefits related to exercise performance and well-being measures like the study I described above, FiftyFitness participants describe their experience of it more generally and in terms of how it makes them feel.

It seems they just prefer exercising outdoors.

I also asked:

What do you most enjoy about participating in Get Fit Outdoors group exercise? And least enjoy?

References to being outdoors pop up a lot.

  • …getting outside, being with others, variety.
  • Working with Kate in an outdoor environment.
  • I enjoy being outside when the weather is nice, and it is a really nice start to the day.
  • It’s great to be outdoors exercising with other people

Context is also important

A clearly stated limitation of the review study was a lack of information on outdoor exercise context in the individual research experiments included.

Being part of a group may play a role in the positive impacts.

Note how two of the responses above mention being with other people in their ‘most enjoyed’ aspects.

What about least enjoyed aspects?

I also sought feedback on the least enjoyed aspects of Get Fit Outdoors group exercise.

Some of the least enjoyed things also relate to being outdoors and seasonal changes that impact the experience.

  • Least enjoy – mosquitos.
  • Getting up when it is cold and wet.
  • I least enjoy the cold mornings.

The review authors also mention a lack of information about environmental conditions in the individual studies analysed for their article.

Weather conditions and insects can certainly make outdoor exercise a negative experience.

However, it’s generally a positive experience for FiftyFitness Get Fit Outdoors participants.

And I carry a large can of insect repellent in my kit.

Here are some other things they report

  • Enjoy the variety of exercise sessions. Enjoy group sessions.
  • I enjoy the activities.
  • I most enjoy how I feel for the rest of the day, knowing that I have done something good for myself.
  • Least enjoy getting up at 5am to do the early class, but feel great when the sun comes up at 6am 😃

Come and join us

Do you live around the suburb of Success, south of Perth in Western Australia?

Are you over 50 and need to increase your physical activity?

Exercising outdoors with a small group of friendly over 50s is a great way to get moving.

What’s involved?

We do a combination of strength and cardio (huff & puff) exercise each session.

My focus is strength for over 50s and I don’t expect people to do the cardio at excessive intensity.

Everyone goes at their own pace and level, and I can provide variations to suit individual needs.

We use a variety of equipment such as dumbbells, bands, balls, ropes and mats, as well as structures in the lovely park where we meet.

There is a bit of running but it’s not compulsory 😊

The overall aim is staying mobile and strong so we can enjoy life and do the things we love now and forever.

Learn more about Get Fit Outdoors

If you’re lucky enough to live around the suburb of Treeby, south of Perth in Western Australia, you can try our over 50s outdoor exercise group. Check out this link to learn more.

Keep in touch

Please reach out to me if anything in this article resonates with you.

You can email me at kate@fiftyfitness.com.au or connect via social media.

I’m on FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

You can have a read of my previous blogs here 🙂

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This blog was written by

Kate Rowen's avatar

Kate Rowen

I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land where I live, work and exercise, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation.