Is there a difference between indoor and outdoor exercise activities? Which environment gives you the most benefits? There is an ongoing debate in the fitness world about where is best for exercising. There are differences in how your environment affects your workout quality and your mental and physical health, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Pros and cons of outdoor exercise
Pro: Improved mental wellbeing
Compared with indoor exercise, a study shows that exercising in “natural environments” was linked to “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreased tension, confusion, anger and depression” and more energy. People in the study who exercised outside felt happier, more satisfied and wanted to repeat the activity at a later date. Other small studies show decreased levels of cortisol, the hormone that triggers stress, after exercising outside compared with inside.
Pro: More strenuous, longer workouts
Outdoor runners tend to flex their ankles more and expend more energy when compared to treadmill runners. Cyclists are also shown to burn more calories when riding outdoors.
Another study shows that people who exercise outside do so for longer. The study participants had their activity monitored for a week; the people who exercised outside spent an average of 30 minutes more exercising than those who exercised inside.
Pro: Vitamin D intake
This one is simple -- going outside means exposure to the sun, which gives you vitamin D. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium for strong bone growth.
Pro: It’s free!
Outdoor exercise means you simply step out of your home and go! You don’t need a membership to walk, run, bike or do another activity outside.
Con: Exposure to the elements
You are at the whim of mother nature when you exercise outside: snow, sleet, rain, hail, freezing cold, strong winds -- you can’t control any of it. If exercising outside is your go-to, you need to be prepared for any type of weather. This also means that living in a city or highly populated area will expose you to air pollutants and possible allergens.
Pros and cons of indoor exercise
Pro: Controlled environment
Exercising in a gym or inside means you (most likely) have air conditioning and heat to make the air comfortable. You don’t need to worry about rain, snow or heat. If you live in a city, escaping to the cleaner air inside a gym can also be a blessing for anyone suffering from asthma, allergies and other respiratory problems.
Pro: Availability of group classes
Research shows that group exercise classes help to teach accountability while giving participants a safe and effective workout. Taking classes like yoga, Zumba and kickboxing may attract people who don’t like to run or walk outside.
Pro: Access to facilities
At a gym, you can use saunas, showers and even spas. If you stop to exercise on your way to work, this can be a much-needed perk so you can get your workout in and get clean before heading to the office.
The monthly and annual fees for gym memberships vary widely depending on location, but the average monthly fee for a gym membership ranges from $40 to $50. Adding in initiation fees can bring the total to about $800 a year.
Where is the best place to work out? The answer depends on what you are looking for -- if climate control is your top requirement, then a gym is the place for you. If you want the mental health benefits and cost savings, then taking your workout outside is the way to go. Most important of all is that you exercise, no matter where you decide to do it.