Getting exercise does not have to mean going indoors to the gym. You can get a full workout in your own backyard, local playground, or park.
Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Exercising outside can offer many benefits. It can help improve your mood, expose you to vitamin D from the sun, and increase your energy level. It also offers a varied landscape that you DO NOT get indoors. So if you are walking, running, or bicycling, you are more likely to encounter hills. This helps work different muscle groups and increase the intensity of your workout.
A Complete Workout
Your routine should include 3 types of exercise:
- Aerobic exercise. This is any kind of exercise that uses your larger muscles and gets your heart beating faster. Aim to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
- Stretching exercises. These exercises stretch your muscles for better flexibility and range of motion in your joints. You can stretch before or after doing your other exercises.
- Strength training. These exercises work your muscles to make them stronger and help build stronger bones. Try to work out all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week. Just make sure to rest for a day in between.
No matter what type of outdoor workout you choose, include exercises from all 3 groups. Include exercises that target your arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back, and abdominal muscles.
If you have not been active in a while, or if you have a health condition, it is a good idea to talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
Ideas for Outdoor Exercise
There are many ways to exercise outdoors, the possibilities are almost endless. Choose something that appeals to you and is right for your level of fitness. Here are some ideas:
- Warm up first. Get your blood flowing by walking for about 5 minutes. Add a dynamic stretch by bringing your knees up toward your chest. Warming up and stretching your muscles can help prevent some injuries. You should continue with your warm up until your body feels warm and you are just starting to sweat.
- Walk or jog to your outdoor gym. Choose a park or playground near your house for your workout. This way you can start, and end, your routine with a brisk walk or light jog.
- Choose your props. Park benches, trees, and monkey bars all make great exercise props. Use a park bench for doing pushups, dips, and step-ups. Monkey bars and tree branches are great for pull-ups. Or you can use them to work your abs by pulling your bent legs up toward your chest while you hang from your hands. You can also wrap resistance bands around trees or poles to do strengthening exercises.
- Think full body. When exercising outside, use exercises that use your body weight. For example, you can do squats, lunges, pushups, dips, sit ups, and planks. Do 15 repetitions of each exercise. Build up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions for each exercise.
- Join a class or group. Many people feel more motivated when exercising in a group. Look for fitness classes, such as yoga, tai chi, or aerobics, offered outside in local parks and recreation areas. You can also look for groups that focus on a sport you enjoy, such as bicycling, hiking, jogging, rowing, tennis, or Frisbee.
- Make chores a workout. Yes, your outdoor chores can count as exercise. A combination of gardening, mowing the lawn with a push mower, pulling weeds, or raking leaves can give you a full body workout.
- Mix it up. Keep your workout new by varying your routine every so often. Try a new sport or walk, hike, or jog along a new route. Take a day trip and do your routine somewhere new.
Whenever you exercise outside, you should take a few precautions to make sure you stay safe.
- Watch the weather. While you can exercise in most types of weather, extreme heat or cold can be dangerous. In cold weather, dress in layers, and wear a hat and gloves. In hot weather, wear plenty of sunscreen, choose lightweight clothing, and drink lots of water.
- Use caution on streets. Walk or jog facing oncoming traffic and wear bright clothing so drivers can see you. If you are out when it is dark, wear reflective clothing or carry a flashlight.
- Be prepared. Carry an ID and a cell phone, just in case.
For More Information
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has many exercise routines listed on its site -- www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-programs.
There are also many books on exercises you can do on your own. You can also get fitness videos or DVDs. Choose books or videos created by people with fitness credentials. Look for someone certified by ACE or the American College of Sports Medicine.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms during exercise:
- Pressure or pain in your chest, shoulder, arm, or neck
- Feeling sick to your stomach
- Severe pain
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath even when you stop exercise
- A headache, weakness, confusion, or muscle cramps in hot weather
- Loss of feeling or stinging on any area of your skin in cold weather
Exercise - outdoors
Buchner DM. Physical activity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 16.
Shanahan DF, Franco L, Lin BB, Gaston KJ, Fuller RA. The benefits of natural environments for physical activity. Sports Med. 2016;46(7):989-995. PMID: 26886475 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26886475.
Fit facts: three things every exercise program should have. American Council on Exercise. www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/pdfs/fitfacts/itemid_2627.pdf. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Review Date 5/17/2016
Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.