Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise: Which Is More Productive?

Paul Anderson doing some lifting outdoors at the old Muscle Beach

I have always loved being outdoors. The article below supports what I have always believed, you get more out of exercising outdoors. Of course, as the article states, any exercise is better than none at all and even I will admit that there are some occasions when a stationary bike, stepper, or treadmill can be a real help. But in general, I would rather ride a real bike past some real scenery, run up a real hill, row a real boat, or push and pull a sled across a real field if at all possible. I much prefer that to gerbilizing inside of a sweaty box. Weight training outdoors is harder to accomplish, but I love to do that as much as I can. Luckily we have large, level concrete pad adjacent to our weight room which is outside and allows us to carry dumbells outside and once in awhile we even carry a barbell out for some work. I love the old "muscle beach" atmosphere. Although I never had the opportunity to actually train at that iconic place, I have tried to duplicate the experience when I could. At various times in my life I have done all of my training outdoors. My first teaching job was at the Alamo Navajo School in New Mexico. (New Mexico and Arizona have great beaches, we just lack an ocean) Our school was a series of portable buildings and we lived in a trailer. I kept some weights underneath the trailer and lifted outdoors all year round. The winters were short, but still very cold. I would lift in layers of clothes and wearing gloves. In the Summer it was really hot so I lifted in shorts and shoes only. I highly recommend getting outdoors as often as your circumstances permit. Take advantage of the Summer season (at least here in the Northern hemisphere) and get outdoors for some of your workouts.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise: Which Is More Productive?
by Alina Gonzalez;
The Tampa Tribune (Florida)

People tend to lean heavily on the gym when it comes to exercise, even in places where summer is endless. The gym is just an easy concept: You go, the machines are right there, you get the workout done, and you leave.

But maybe that's the point/problem. Is it better for your body, health, and fitness goals to work out outdoors, where terrain varies and nothing is as smooth as the treadmill belt or class floor?

It depends on so many factors, but the short answer is yes: Science says it is, in fact, better to exercise outdoors.

There are variations depending on the workout you're doing. Take running, for example. In a study that looked at runners who covered the same distance on a treadmill and outdoors, the group that ran inside expended less energy than the outside group. This is because of terrain changes and wind velocity, which you don't face in the controlled climate of a gym. You get more bang for your buck running 3 miles outside than running 3 miles inside.

Your body has to work harder to do so, and thus you burn more calories. Running inside also doesn't enable you to run downhill, a movement that flexes and engages different muscles. The same has been shown for biking, with regard to wind resistance outside, downhill movements and turning.

There's another consideration that makes exercising outside more strenuous, whether you're running, biking or hiking: temperature. In most gyms, unless you're taking a hot yoga class, the A/C will be blasting to keep you cool and comfortable. More pleasant? Yes. But does it mean you're expending less energy (aka calories) and sweating less than you would if you were doing the same activity in the great outdoors? Also yes.

Additionally, a systematic study on the effects of physical activity outside in a natural environment versus indoors showed that among people doing the same activity, the outdoor exercisers showed greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement; decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression; and increased energy afterward. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and declared a greater intent to repeat the activity at a later date - i.e., they were more motivated to work out again.

All that said, working outside has its limitations. From inclement weather to safety concerns, it's not always an option. And although working out among trees, fresh air and the sun offers more beautiful and stimulating surroundings than the walls of a gym, the gym provides variety in the form of options, from the weight machines to Zumba or boxing.

The bottom line? Switch up your workout and get outside as much as you can for its physical and mental health benefits, but don't sweat it (pun intended) if the gym is a more practical choice for you. Doing any workout is amazing for your body and health.

July 4, 2015
Franco Columbu hanging out with Arnold and another unidentified fitness enthusiast at the old Muscle Beach.

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