The Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Bringing Your Workouts Outdoors

Exercise + sunshine + fresh air = happier people.

By: Emily Freeman

As the air becomes cool and crisp and the leaves begin to change, there’s no better time for an outdoor fall workout. Taking your fitness routine outdoors during the early fall (before it’s too cold!) can offer so many good-for-you benefits — both for your physical health, as well as your mental well-being. From increased energy and reduced stress, to improved mood and more time in the sunshine (hello, vitamin D), the benefits of outdoor fall workouts shouldn’t be taken for granted. Shown to boost serotonin, stimulate the release of endorphins, and improve your mood, focus, and productivity, there are countless reasons to get outside and move your body.

Plus, it’s an easy way to socialize and connect with friends or family without filling your already busy calendar. So, before the holiday mayhem begins, let’s break down all the science-backed benefits that come with moving your body outdoors so you can have a clear head and healthy mind all season long.

The Mental Health Benefits of Outdoor Workouts 

Studies have shown a proven correlation between outdoor workouts and reduced levels of stress, depression, and anxiety because of the “restorative” properties of natural environments. This is especially true for those who live in an urban environment and may be in a constant state of overstimulation. Getting outside for a workout even once a week can reduce cortisol levels while increasing serotonin levels, otherwise known as our “feel-good” hormones.

Similarly, if you work from home, it can be hard to disconnect from feeling “on” and actually allow yourself to be present during your workouts, or anything else for that matter. Getting outdoors in a new environment can give you that feeling of “being away,” allowing you to put your obligations in the back of your mind and be present for your workout. And even if you don’t have the time for a full workout, you can still get the mood-boosting benefits of nature and movement from a walk around the block or a walking meeting! It’s all about finding what works best for you.

If you don’t have open space to escape to, you can get similar benefits by going to outdoor spaces — especially during the fall season when foliage is peaking! This could be a public garden, a neighborhood park, or anywhere in nature where you have access to trees, hiking trails, or greenery! Even if you’re not able to move, these environments can also stimulate fascination and feelings of “being away.” Plus, you could always pack some workout equipment (like a yoga mat and resistance bands) and squeeze in a few reps as you enjoy the scenery. 

If that’s not an option, try bringing the greenery to you! Don’t undermine the benefits of gardening or yard work. Aside from boosting your mood and lowering stress, gardening has been shown to build strength and burn calories! Raking fall leaves and planting a seasonal fall garden is no easy feat!

Other Benefits of Taking Your Workouts Outdoors 

If you weren’t already convinced to exercise outside, the benefits of outdoor workouts go beyond your mental health. If you’ve been working out at home to save money, taking your workouts outdoors can increase your results and doesn’t cost a cent. 

Saves Time & Increases Time in Nature

If you’re lucky enough to live near open space, you can also cut down on commute time to and from the gym by just running (or walking, cycling, etc.) out the door and getting started on your workout right away (though don’t forget to warm up!) If walking, you can even try a walking meditation while surrounded by the beautiful (and stress-reducing) fall foliage.

You’ll Soak in the Sunshine Benefits

Many people are deficient in vitamin D, putting them at risk for bone density loss leading to osteoporosis and potentially other chronic conditions. One of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is to get in the sun! As a bonus, vitamin D has been shown to support mood, making an outdoor workout a win-win. 

Burns More Calories

Lastly, if you’re looking for a little extra calorie burn, you’ll be happy to know working out in the cool, crisp air can transform white fat into brown fat, a mechanism that burns stored calories to generate heat. Based on research, brown fat is activated in cold weather and during exercise. Plus, there’s additional research that suggests brown fat is more readily available during the winter months, meaning we could slightly increase our caloric expenditure with an outdoor fall workout! 

If it’s extra chilly, just make sure to prepare for the cold weather so you don’t end up with hypothermia.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Burn More Calories While Walking

You’ll Meet New People 

Aside from enjoying a new scenery, taking your workout outdoors comes with the added bonus of community. Before the weather gets too chilly, you’ll likely find lots of like-minded people getting their sweat on outdoors — it’s a great way to meet new people!

What You Need to Take Your Workouts Outside 

One of the other beauties of working out outdoors is you need very little equipment. Beyond the obvious cardio exercises like running, walking, or swimming, there are plenty of effective bodyweight resistance exercises to include in your routine. When heading outdoors, always start with sunscreen (yes, even in the fall and winter months) and the necessary layers if you’re exercising in the cold. And you wouldn’t forget your water bottle, would you?

Other than that, the rest of your equipment is up to you. If you know you’ll be on rough or irritating ground and plan on doing exercises that are on the floor like bicycles, planks, hip bridges, downward dog, hundreds, and pushups, then you’ll probably want to bring a mat (and we know just the one). If you want to add extra resistance to your workouts, resistance bands are your best bet. They’re light and easily portable. Plus, it’s an easy way to burn out your legs and glutes without the added stress of heavy weights!

If you want a little extra guidance for your outdoor workout, don’t forget your phone so you can press play on your favorite workouts on the FitOn app!

Getting Started With Outdoor Workouts 

Ready to reap all the benefits outdoor workouts offer? Take your FitOn workout outdoors! Try these FitOn favorites alongside some fresh air + sunshine and get ready to see just how good they leave you feeling!

Flexibility and stretching are important and one of the most overlooked elements of fitness. Open up your joints and lengthen your muscles with this feel-good stretch which will help you take away tension in your body and feel your best. You deserve it.

Some days a simple flow is still a bit much. Dial it back a notch with this simpler flow that shows you that moving and breathing is the key to a healthy & happy life. 

Get the best of both worlds with this lower body focused strength and cardio workout. Strength and cardio together will help sculpt all your major muscle groups. 

A Little Fresh Air Always Helps

Getting active outdoors doesn’t have to be complicated. Even a brisk walk around the block can do wonders for your mental health. If you love your indoor workouts but feel like your brain could use a boost, try adding one day of outdoor exercise to your programming or even try to get outside during your hectic day for a quick stroll to get the benefits of outdoor workouts.