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Outdoor Running: Good For the Body, Even Better For the Mind

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As the days get shorter, it gets dark earlier and cold temperatures become the norm, my opportunities for exercising outside start to dwindle.  I get out as much as I can and I’m fine with bundling up if I have to, but I’m not crazy about running in the dark in an area with limited sidewalks.  Often I end up heading to my basement for a run on the treadmill, but it really never gives me the same amount of satisfaction.  Now a study shows that the physical benefits might be the same, but the mental benefits between an outdoor and indoor run might be different. 

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, found that “the people who ran outside ran faster than the people who ran on treadmills, yet they had lower perceived exertion and the highest levels of positive engagement, revitalization, tranquility, and course satisfaction.”  60 runners were tested and interviewed in different environments as part of the study. 

Most research shows that there’s not much of a calories burned difference between an outdoor versus treadmill run (of the same distance.)  There are other advantages to outdoor running like adapting to different terrains and weather conditions (like wind), that can’t be replicated indoors.   But for me, the mental benefits of an outdoor run are what matter most- it’s a stress-reliever.  I feel like I run faster and can go farther outside because I enjoy it more and I’m not constantly looking down at a display that tells me how much time I have left and how fast (or how slow) I’m going.  I know that everyone is different, and those stats are motivational for some people.  They just aren’t motivational for me.     

There can be safety advantages to treadmill running (for example, if you don’t have access to sidewalks or don’t feel comfortable running alone after dark.)   Many elite runners use treadmills as part of their training regimen, and some people just prefer the convenience a treadmill can offer.  But if you spend most of your time at the gym and don’t run outside, I’d encourage you to give it a try.   You might find the outdoors help you enjoy your runs (or walks) even more.   

These days, I’m slightly jealous of the person who can get out for a run when the sun is shining or it’s a really nice day.  My schedule doesn’t always allow for that kind of flexibility, so I do my running where and when I can.  But for me, there’s nothing like getting outside and breathing in the fresh air.

Do you prefer to run or walking indoors or outside?  What makes you choose one over the other?

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