Need a Break From the Gym? Get Outside!

Sure, you invest a lot of your hard-earned paycheck into your monthly gym membership. After all, you made it your New Year’s resolution to get back into shape after you overindulged a little over the holidays. However, even with the gym’s high-tech TVs attached to every piece of equipment, you find your workouts on the treadmill or the stationary bike have gotten stale.

Maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit – literally – and take your exercise outside for a while.

Whether you like to run, speed-walk or go for a long ride on the trail while jamming out to your favorite tunes, opting for an outdoor workout every once in a while may be just the break you need from your routine as a regular gym-rat.

Still finding it hard to tug yourself away from your daily Zumba or Pilates class? Here are five reasons why exercising in the great outdoors could be great for your mind, body and spirit.

  1. It Can Keep the Scale Down

We all know regular exercise can help you maintain your weight and fitness levels, and even help you drop a few pounds without forcing you to give up your favorite splurge foods – like that after-dinner cappuccino. Did you know that working out in nature seems to be more effective for your waistline than sticking to the gym?

The fresh air and open space can inspire you to perform more activity than in a loud, crowded, closed facility. Plus, the research seems to support that time spent playing outdoors is positively associated with decreased body fat, with one study of 10- to 12-year-olds showing that active-outdoors children had a prevalence of overweight that was 27-41 percent lower than active-indoors children.

  1. It Can Improve Your Mental Health

That’s right: The benefits of working out outside go way beyond physical fitness. Recent research suggests that engaging in active motion while deep in nature can reduce mild forms of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and stress. The survey found that those who exercise outdoors demonstrated a 50-percent better improvement in mental health than those who worked out in a gym. Experts suggest that being in the presence of trees and grass lowers the brain’s stress levels.

You don’t have to commit to a sweaty, six-mile run in the heat, though. Studies suggest that even five minutes of doing something active in a park, such as walking, gardening, fishing, boating or horseback riding, have immediate positive effects on your mood.

  1. It Can Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Americans are notoriously deficient in vitamin D, that important, fat-soluble vitamin responsible for absorbing calcium and other minerals into the bones to promote healthy bone growth. New research has shown that a vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases and cancer, among other conditions. Signs of this deficiency can include malaise, increased age, obesity, achy bones and gastrointestinal issues.

How do you prevent vitamin D deficiency from taking over your life? You can always pick up the capsule form at your local health-food store, or you could harness the healing vitamin D power of natural sunlight by bringing your exercise routine outside on a sunny summer day. A recent study found that people who engaged in three or more hours of vigorous exercise per week had the highest levels of vitamin D and were 22 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack than other Americans. The researchers concluded that it all came down to being out in the sun more often. Just don’t forget to slather on some sunscreen!

  1. It Can Boost Your Energy Levels

Before you swing open your house door after a long, tough day at work pondering that coveted nap in front of the TV, consider which activity might provide you with the best energy levels in the long run: the nap, or a brief run out in the fresh air.

The answer is probably the latter. Research shows that just a little bit of fresh air – as few as 20 minutes moving your body in nature – is significantly linked to increased vitality, often exceeding the energy-boosting effects of a cup of Starbucks coffee.

So skip the latte this morning and try getting some exercise outside instead. Not only will you feel more energetic, but you’ll be saving yourself some money, too.

  1. It’s Free – Almost

Want to save a little cash for your dream vacation this year? One way to cut back is to put your gym membership on hold during the warm-weather months. Sure, if you plan to work out outdoors you may have to invest in some new running shoes or hiking boots, but in comparison to what you pay your facility on a monthly basis, the cost won’t add up as quickly.

The best part? When do you go on a temporary hiatus from your gym, you’ll be even more motivated to get your body outside and reap the wonderful physical and mental benefits that nature can do for you.

The bottom line? As long as the sun is still shining, make a commitment to yourself take a walk on the wild side – out into the fresh air.

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