Outdoor exercise ideas for your fitness routine
With the sun coming out, albeit intermittently, lots of us are looking for outdoor exercise ideas to make the most of the summer. We know that exercise is great for our bodies and our minds, but heading to the great outdoors can add even more wellbeing benefits to your daily workout.
Simply being in the outdoors has been shown to have many benefits. Forest bathing, a mindful practice of connecting to the outdoors, has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and even support our immunity. This is why shaking up your routine to include outdoor exercise is a great way squeeze the most out of your workout.
Benefits of outdoor exercise
Studies show that exercise in nature can improve our mood and self-esteem. You may find you feel more satisfaction if you finish a run in the outdoors, especially if you can keep the terrain varied. Simply being around trees can help us feel better. The NHS supports research that shows trees can enhance mood, improve self-esteem and lower blood pressure.
For those of us needing extra encouragement, research has also found that outside exercise can feel less strenuous. Getting moving in green space led people to achieve greater intensity without feeling like they were making more of an effort. It’s also thought that exercise outdoors is more enjoyable too.
We know that gentle exercise during the day can help us sleep better in the evening. Research shows that spending time outside can have similar effects. Green space is a potent sleep aid, especially for those aged 65 and over.
Spending more time outdoors is associated with a more active lifestyle, but it’s also thought that outdoor exercise helps us to regulate our circadian rhythms and sleep more reliably at night. We know that sleep is crucial to make sure our bodies and brains are able to heal, rest and grow.
Sunlight is extremely beneficial to our physical and mental health. Taking your exercise outside can supercharge the goodness you usually receive from getting your blood pumping. Vitamin D is often called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because the body produces it in response to sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for many of our bodies’ functions. From ensuring the health of our bones and teeth to supporting the immune system, getting vitamin D from the sun on your skin is very important for our health.
It has been shown that being outdoors can boost our mood, too. A lack of sunlight is associated with a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that can stabilise our mood and make us feel happier. This means being outdoors is good for our brains as well as our bodies. The sun can be damaging to your skin if you don’t protect yourself properly – read our guide to the best sunscreens.
Inspiration for outdoor exercise
No matter where you live, there are ways to reap the benefits of the outdoors. Gardens, parks and the countryside are all great ways to get your green fix and get your body moving at the same time.
Simply putting on some trainers or walking boots and exploring trails in the outdoors is one of the best ways to help your body. It increases your heart strength and the efficiency of your lungs. It’s a great way to get your cardio hit with less impact on your joints than other activities such as running. The more variation you can add into your hike the better. Hills, boulders and even stiles engage your brain and balance, making sure your whole body is included in the workout.
Try Nordic walking for an extra boost to your upper body. Adding poles to your walking routine increases stability, burns more calories and adds a small amount of resistance to your arm muscles.
In terms of overall wellbeing, wild swimming is near the top of our exercise charts. If you can brave the cold, you’ll be rewarded with a number of physical and mental benefits. Being in cold water actually increases our white blood cell count, which is our first line of defence against infectious diseases. It may also stimulate the lymphatic system and boost circulation in the body.
Swimming itself is also great for fitness. It tones up muscles and can work as a kind of resistance training. Water exercise can help to build bone strength too, helping to prevent against osteoporosis.
Researchers believe that wild swimming can be greatly beneficial for our mental health too. Being in cold water releases endorphins, the hormones that help us feel happier. Mindfully engaging with outdoor environments has also been linked to reduced stress.
If you live in a more urban environment, take a look at your nearby outdoor gyms. You may have spotted pieces of equipment in your local park, and don’t be shy to use them! They use your own body weight to target different muscle groups, helping us tone up and build strength. This can help to reduce our risk of developing health issues, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.
We also lose muscle mass as we age, which can increase our risk of falls and decrease our mobility. Heading to an outdoor gym is a fun and motivating way to ward off this decline in strength while reaping the benefits of the outdoors.
Why not try jogging to the park to raise your heart rate and warm up before working on specific muscle groups? The best bit? They’re free to use!
Practicing yoga has a host of benefits, including improving balance, training our breathing and keeping our bones strong. If you’ve found yourself brushing fingers with strangers in crowded rooms, it might be time to take the practice outdoors. So much of the language of yoga centres on nature, from animal poses to sun salutations, so you can use this time to connect with the outside world.
Being outside surrounded by natural aromas such as the smell of flowers, freshly mown grass or a sea breeze can help you to feel more present with your surroundings. The fresh air is also a great aid to breathing exercises, leaving you feeling calm and invigorated.
Motivation can be one of the hardest parts of starting a new fitness routine and many of us prefer exercising in a group to encourage each other to keep going. Being outside doesn’t mean you have to be on your own. There are plenty of exercise classes available that put an al fresco spin on your favourite workout. You could try a rooftop spin class, or a HIIT workout in the open air. Check what’s available in your local area and head down with your favourite exercise gear.
Try something new
In the great outdoors, the opportunities for activity are endless. The closer you can get to nature, the more benefits you’ll discover. We love the idea of paddle boarding down a quiet waterway, or trying out a new skill like rock climbing. Whatever your choice, getting your outdoor exercise is the perfect way to boost the wellbeing benefits of a great workout.