7 Science-Backed Reasons Outdoor Workouts Are *So* Good for You


Experts agree that working out in nature typically offers more benefits than being stuck inside, but itโ€™s not just because you breathe in more fresh air.

Being in nature can also have significant impacts on your mental and physical health overall, while offering you a more challenging and enjoyable workout.

Hereโ€™s what medical and fitness pros say about the benefits of outdoor exerciseโ€”plus, an easy workout to start with today.

The benefits of outdoor exercise

1. You get an extra dose of vitamin D

The sunโ€™s ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays produce vitamin D, but many people are deficient because they either live in an area where sunshine is limited in the winter or they simply donโ€™t get outside much, per Harvard Medical School. A sunny room wonโ€™t help because glass windows completely block UVB rays.

โ€œNatural sunlight exposure is essential for vitamin D production in the body, which is great because vitamin D supports the immune system, bone health, and mood regulation,โ€ says Casey Kelley, MD, ABOIM, a board-certified integrative medicine physician and founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. โ€œWorking out in nature is like a two-for-one deal. You get exercise while giving your body a dose of vitamin D, which is also an anti-inflammatory antioxidant.โ€

Although vitamin D absorption from sunshine varies based on individual factors, including skin color and age, some experts suggest that getting outside for sun exposure at least twice per week can provide sufficient vitamin D synthesis, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Speaking of age, here’s how being in nature benefits your longevity!)

Of course, itโ€™s also important to protect your skin properly, so apply that SPF if youโ€™ll be outside for extended periods. Sunscreen does block out vitamin D-producing rays, but in practice, sunscreen rarely covers all sun-exposed skinโ€”so the skin probably still synthesizes some vitamin D with the typically applied amounts of sunscreen, per the NIH. (Looking for the best sunscreens for your body? We’ve got you covered!)

2. It can challenge your workouts

Working out in nature can also increase the physical challenge of your workout, depending on the terrain you choose. For instance, exercising on a sandy beach will require greater energy exertion because it makes jumping movements more challenging.

โ€œAn uneven or unstable ground may also require more muscle activation to stabilize the body for certain exercises and can improve balance,โ€ says Alissa Tucker, CPT, a certified personal trainer and signature guide at KINRGY in West Hollywood, California. โ€œChoosing a hilly area can also provide additional challenges to your workouts.โ€

All that said, it may actually feel easier to exercise outside. Researchers found that outdoor exercise led to more energy and happinessโ€”and less fatigueโ€”than indoor exercise in a 2022 review published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

Plus, outdoor exercise appeared to have an impact on perceived exertion, with outdoor workouts feeling less demanding, in a notable 2013 study in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.

โ€œThis phenomenon seems to be due to the level of enjoyment that most people experience from being outdoors,โ€ Tucker says. โ€œIt can improve overall performance by pushing exercisers to work harder than they otherwise might indoors.โ€

โ€œWorking out in nature is like a two-for-one deal. You get exercise while giving your body a dose of vitamin D, which is also an anti-inflammatory antioxidant.โ€ โ€”Casey Kelley, MD, ABOIM

3. You get the chance to practice grounding and earthing

Earthing involves touching the earth directly, say, with your hands or bare feet. That could mean working out on lush grass or lying on the sand at the beach. You can consider earthing a part of the โ€œgroundingโ€ umbrella, which involves an entire range of grounding mindfulness techniques, per the Cleveland Clinic.

โ€œWe can become grounded by the sounds of the birds in the trees, the beauty of a sunset, the view from a hilltop, or the sound of a river or ocean,โ€ says Lorraine Viade, PsyD, supervising psychologist at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. โ€œThese exposures are more effective than using apps or artificial means.โ€

Meanwhile, earthing has long been practiced by various cultures and disciplines around the world, including Traditional Chinese Medicine. It had a moment on social media in 2022 with modern practitioners embracing the potential healing properties of connecting with the earth.

โ€œIt’s an ancient practice that has been lost in large amounts due to the modern lifestyle and the invention of shoes,โ€ Tucker says. โ€œEarthing or grounding is simply connecting your physical body to the earth.โ€

Although research on earthing is still limited, it might provide benefits like reduced inflammation, pain, and stressโ€”and improved blood flow and sleep, per a 2020 review article in the alternative medicine journal Explore.

4. It can help you sleep better

Exposure to natural light during the day can regulate your bodyโ€™s internal clock, helping you to snooze more soundly at night. Plus, exercising can also contribute to you catching more zzzs.

โ€œWhen you combine both, you are setting yourself up for a deeper, longer nightโ€™s sleep with an improved circadian rhythm,โ€ Dr. Kelley says.

Those who spent less time outside were more likely to report short sleep, go to bed later, and have chronic insomnia than those who spent more time outdoors, per a 2023 study in Clocks & Sleep.ย 

5. It can boost your mental health

Another benefit of outdoor exercise is that spending time in nature can boost your mindfulness, gratitude, and appreciation for the natural world, all of which are great for improving mental health and your overall mood.

โ€œSitting at a computer all day can leave you feeling disconnected and stuck in whatever obstacles you are currently dealing with,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œGetting outside can help you see the bigger picture and focus on staying grounded in the moment.โ€

As you exercise, think about how the sunlight feels on your skin, admire the surrounding nature, and listen to the sounds of the birds chirping. You may find it gives you more than just a fitness boost: Spending time in nature is linked to boosts in happiness, well-being, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life (plus decreases in mental distress), per a 2019 review in Science Advances.ย 

โ€œWalking, hiking, playing sports, or any other activities done among trees, fresh air, and sunlight increase creativity, productivity and positivity,โ€ Dr. Viade says. โ€œIn addition, they offer opportunities for people struggling with isolation, depression, and anxiety to overcome some of those symptoms by increasing opportunities to engage with others and become more mindful.โ€

6. Itโ€™s cost-effective and accessible

Itโ€™s easy to be swooned by high-end gyms or fitness boutiques, but you can get all the workout opportunities you need by simply stepping outside.

โ€œOne of the best parts about working out in nature is that itโ€™s free,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œPlus, even in large cities, you can always find a park that is accessible via walking or public transportation. Many even have workout areas with equipment such as a pull-up bar, chest press, leg press, or monkey bars.โ€

Plus, youโ€™re likely to benefit from the sense of community when you exercise outdoors.

โ€œWhen you spend more time in nature, you are likely to run into other peopleโ€”especially if you’re participating in a shared activity like exercise,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œThis can make you feel less alone, give you a social outlet, and increase your sense of community.โ€

Consider joining a free club in your area thatโ€™s dedicated to outdoor fitness, like a running group or tai chi class.

7. Youโ€™ll get to gulp down fresh O2

When exercising outdoors, you get a greater supply of fresh air compared to indoor spaces.

โ€œThis can help with energy production and muscle function, allowing you to perform better during your workouts for longer periods of time,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œBreathing in fresh air while exercising can also improve respiratory efficiency and expand lung capacity.โ€

The clean, less polluted air found in nature may reduce respiratory irritation and inflammation, making workouts more comfortable for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Live in a city and worry about pollution? Getting outside can still be very beneficial, with a few precautions, because pollution can vary by location and time of day.

โ€œThe best time of day to work out outside is early in the morning before the materials build up for the day,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œAlso, itโ€™s helpful to avoid working out next to a busy street or highway. Try to find an area with more trees that help filter the air for you.โ€

Skip being outside on high-pollution days when the air quality is lower, especially if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Tips for taking your workout outdoors

1. Choose the right shoes

Being outside means you need to dress for the particular terrain youโ€™ll be training on.

โ€œBe mindful of proper footwear for the terrain and the type of exercise that you are doing,โ€ Tucker says. โ€œFor example, if the ground is rocky, you probably wouldnโ€™t want to exercise barefoot. Or, if you’re doing a lot of jumping in your workout, you might be better off with a surface that has some spring to cushion the jointsโ€”or make sure you have shoes that offer optimal support to cushion your landing.โ€

Your footwear should also help protect you from unexpected falls.

โ€œWear footwear that offers a good grip and support if you are working out on uneven terrain,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œIn rainy conditions especially, be cautious of slippery surfaces.โ€

2. Watch the outside temperatures

Even if you live in an area where the weather is fairly predictable, be mindful of the temperature when exercising outdoors.

โ€œIn the summer, it might be best to stick to morning or evening workouts to avoid overheating,โ€ Tucker says. โ€œLikewise, if itโ€™s cold outside, make sure to take ample time to warm up before jumping into your workout to avoid injury.โ€

If heat is a concern, avoid working out during peak sun hours when the sunโ€™s rays are most intense. This will help you prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration. (Learn more about exercising in the heat here.)

โ€œAlso make sure you have a shady, cool spot where you can cool down if need be, or exercise where there is tree cover for extra shade,โ€ Dr. Kelley says.

Also be mindful of protecting yourself from the sun, even on cloudy days.

โ€œWhen working out outdoors, you should always wear SPF and proper sun protection like a hat, sunglasses, sun protection clothing, and light-colored, lightweight fabric such as cotton or linen,โ€ Dr. Kelley adds.

3. Protect yourself from insect bites

Of course, taking your workout outdoors makes it more likely that youโ€™ll be joined by crawly or buzzy company.

โ€œWhen working out in nature, you are more likely to be exposed to ticks and other insects,โ€ Dr. Kelley says. โ€œTo prevent this, wear clothing treated with permethrin, an insect repellent specifically designed to repel ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects.โ€

You can also reduce exposed skin by wearing a long-sleeve shirt and tucking your pants into a long pair of socks. After your outdoor workout, check your body for ticks.

4. Stay hydrated

If youโ€™re working out in the heat, staying properly hydrated is especially important. (These are the signs you’re not drinking enough water to be aware of.)

โ€œWhile sipping water throughout your workout is good, you want to make sure you are adequately hydrated before your workout,โ€ Tucker says. โ€œAdding electrolytes to your water post-workout can help to replenish what you lose through sweat during the workout.โ€

5. Go with a group

Not only can working out with others make it more fun, but it is an extra safety measure.

โ€œMy recommendation is to get a friend or a group or a family member to go with you,โ€ Dr. Viade says. โ€œWalk, talk, and marvel at the beauty around youโ€”because beauty shared is a memory made.โ€

If you do decide to workout by yourself outdoors, tell someone where youโ€™ll be and keep your phone on you in case of an emergency.

Also, take a few moments to practice mindfulnessโ€”whether youโ€™re with a friend or by yourselfโ€”which will help you savor the moment and stay aware of your surroundings.

โ€œBe safe, have fun, be curious and playful, and enjoy what you have under your feet and above your head wherever you go,โ€ Dr. Viade says.

โ€œWalking, hiking, playing sports, or any other activities done among trees, fresh air, and sunlight increase creativity, productivity and positivity.โ€ โ€”Lorraine Viade, PsyD

An easy workout to try outside

To get started, try this simple outdoor workout created by Tucker. Repeat each move for 45 seconds and complete two rounds.

1. Fire pump

Personal trainer demonstrating fire pump exercise outside.
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Start in a wide stance with a generous bend in your knees.
  2. Press your arms forward three times like you’re pushing something heavy away, then press your arms down.
  3. Optional: Add a fire breath to build even more heat by breathing in and out through your nose, pumping your belly in with each exhale and making the exhale forceful (while keeping the inhale passive).

2. Power lunge

Personal trainer demonstrating power lunge outside.
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet together.
  2. Step one foot back into a reverse lunge as you press your arms forward.
  3. Rotate your back foot to find a deep, externally rotated squat as one arm circles overhead and out to make a centered โ€œT.โ€
  4. Rotate the opposite leg in to find a deep lunge on the other side as you circle your opposite arm over.
  5. Step your back foot to meet your front and turn your palms to face the sky as you bend your elbows to your sides.
  6. Repeat in the opposite direction.

3. Bear to plank shooter

Personal trainer demonstrating bear to plank shooter exercise.
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Start in a high plank position with your palms on the ground underneath your shoulders, legs extended behind you, and your feet flexed with the bottoms of your toes on the floor. Your body should make a straight line.
  2. Inhale, bend your knees, and send your hips up to find a downward dog with knees bent.
  3. Exhale and โ€œshootโ€ your legs back to your plank. For more of a challenge, add a push-up of your choice in the plank position.

4. Hover-twist-twist-hold exercise

Personal trainer demonstrating Hover-twist-twist-hold exercise
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on all fours.
  2. Brace your core to lift your knees up off the ground so they’re just barely hovering off the floor.
  3. Rotate your torso as you twist your knees to the right, left, then back to the right as you pull your right arm up to hold, thinking of engaging your back.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

5. Out-cross-out-hit exercise

Personal trainer demonstrating out-cross-out-hit exercise
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet together.
  2. Step your right foot to the side you open your arms to the side.
  3. Cross your left foot in front of your right foot as your arms cross in front of your body.
  4. Step your right foot back out to the right as your arms open to the side.
  5. Bend and lift your left leg in front of you; tap your right hand to your left foot.
  6. Repeat in the other direction.
TIP

You may choose to keep this exercise low-impact and grounded or jump your feet through the moves.

6. Sky and earth exercise

Personal trainer demonstrating sky and earth exercise.
Photo: Alissa Tucker, CPT

  1. Begin in a standing position with your feet wide and arms extended overhead to the sky.
  2. Inhale and draw your arms down, touching your head, then the front of front of your body, all the way down your legs. Send this energy down into the earth as you touch the earth (you can bend your knees to reach as needed).
  3. Send the energy back up through your body by touching your legs, then torso, and up through the crown of your head. Reach for the sky.
  4. Optional: Add the air breath by breathing in and out through your mouth. Inhale as you touch your body. Exhale as you send your energy to the earth and the sky.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.


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  5. Bratman GN, Anderson CB, Berman MG, Cochran B, de Vries S, Flanders J, Folke C, Frumkin H, Gross JJ, Hartig T, Kahn PH Jr, Kuo M, Lawler JJ, Levin PS, Lindahl T, Meyer-Lindenberg A, Mitchell R, Ouyang Z, Roe J, Scarlett L, Smith JR, van den Bosch M, Wheeler BW, White MP, Zheng H, Daily GC. Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Sci Adv. 2019 Jul 24;5(7):eaax0903. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903. PMID: 31355340; PMCID: PMC6656547.




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