Should I Exercise Outdoors? And Can I?

Feb 16, 2011
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A systematic review recently published in Environmental Science and Technology looked at existing studies and reported that there are benefits to mental and physical well-being from exercising in the natural environment when compared to indoor exercise. The comparison showed that exercising in natural environments was associated with various mental well-being outcomes such as greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement as well as with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity later.

This review adds significant weight to the case for spending more time outdoors; something our society seems to do less and less (does sitting on a park bench while playing on your iPad and talking on your cell phone count??). It also suggests that we need more research in this area, especially in populations that may benefit greatly from the reported effects of outdoor exercise over indoor (i.e. those with depression), and also in looking at effects such as physical well-being and adherence, two aspects that are key motivators and goals when exercising in the first place and both of which were not included in the studies reviewed.

These results certainly didn’t surprise me. I recently trained for my first ever half marathon and have to say that I never once felt the exhilaration or comfort of running on the treadmill that I typically did when running outside, even in snowy, freezing Chicago weather. I watched that treadmill dashboard like a hawk and stopped the moment I reached my daily goal, if not before.

But there are difficulties with outdoor exercise for many people with disabilities, including weather, but many other environmental issues as well. There have been steps to address this though, including the Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Federal Outdoor Areas, recently released by the U.S. Access Board. This draft marks a milestone of more than 15 years of work by the Access Board and stakeholders and makes the guidelines one step closer to becoming standards under the Architectural Barriers Act. This is exciting news. Not only should outdoor environments be accessible for the sheer enjoyment of all people and of all abilities. But if a person so chooses to exercise in the outdoors and obtain all the potential benefits as reported by this review, then he or she should not be limited based on access. Removing barriers my friends, that’s what we’re talking about here.

What are some of the barriers you have faced when attempting outdoor exercise??

Author: Blythe