The Science Behind Exercising in the Sunshine

Today is the vernal equinox, meaning it's the #FirstDayOfSpring in the Northern Hemisphere.

While indoor exercise environments can be easier to control and predict, especially with regard to the weather, outdoor exercising has a lot of benefits that cannot necessarily be replicated in an indoor environment. Here's a roundup of some of the research supporting that:


Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. 

Most trials (n = 9) showed some improvement in mental wellbeing on one or other of the outcome measures. Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy. However, the results suggested that feelings of calmness may be decreased following outdoor exercise. Participants reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and declared a greater intent to repeat the activity at a later date. None of the identified studies measured the effects of physical activity on physical wellbeing or the effect of natural environments on exercise adherence.

The hypothesis that there are added beneficial effects to be gained from performing physical activity outdoors in natural environments is very appealing and has generated considerable interest. This review has shown some promising effects on self-reported mental wellbeing immediately following exercise in nature which are not seen following the same exercise indoors. However, the interpretation and extrapolation of these findings is hampered by the poor methodological quality of the available evidence and the heterogeneity of outcome measures employed. The review demonstrates the paucity of high quality evidence on which to base recommendations and reveals an undoubted need for further research in this area. Large, well designed, longer term trials in populations who might benefit most from the potential advantages of outdoor exercise are needed to fully elucidate the effects on mental and physical wellbeing. The influence of these effects on the sustainability of physical activity initiatives also awaits investigation.


Outdoor physical activity and self rated health in older adults living in two regions of the U.S.

Older adults who were physically active outdoors accumulated significantly more physical activity, but self-rated health was not significantly greater than those being physically active indoors.


The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all

Outdoor natural environments may provide some of the best all-round health benefits by increasing physical activity levels with lower levels of perceived exertion, altering physiological functioning including stress reduction, restoring mental fatigue, and improving mood and self-esteem and perceived health. Thus, exercise within green spaces and the great outdoors may be a useful natural medicine to address health challenges facing developed countries. Alongside the social aspect which some individuals crave, it may also increase enjoyment and adherence to bring about positive behavior changes in a large proportion of the population. The great outdoors, therefore, should not be just considered a playground for those who seek the thrills of extreme sports, but emphasis should be placed on access for all.


Acute effects of outdoor physical activity on affect and psychological well-being in depressed patients – A preliminary study

A single outdoor exercise bout showed greater affective improvements compared to indoor and sedentary equivalents for self-reported excitement and activation. As patients felt more active, an outdoor setting might be useful in overcoming listlessness during depression treatment. Due to methodological limitations associated with the pragmatic nature of the trial, findings must be interpreted with caution. Further trials should focus on wider feasibility and acceptability of outdoor exercise in depressive patients.