By Josie Rubio

Spring is finally here, and the warmer weather means we’re no longer putting snow pants on over our workout clothes. This time of year also means the season of outdoor boot camps, yoga, kayaking, hula-hooping, biking — and just about anything else you can think of — is just around the corner. Not only are outdoor activities fun, but research has shown there are a lot of physical and mental health benefits when it comes to the great outdoors.  

Following are a few ways — and plenty of reasons — to look outside for fitness inspiration in the coming months.

  • Put the “out” in workout. Taking a boot camp or yoga class outside often brings a welcome change of scenery — but an outdoor workout can also provide mental benefits and a motivation boost! Research has also found that exercising outside is associated with increased energy and reported feelings of revitalization, as well as a decrease in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Those who exercise outdoors also say that they’re more likely to repeat the activity.  Moving outside also has physical benefits: Studies have found that people have different strides outdoors and they activate different areas of the body. For example, you’re more likely to engage muscles used to run downhill when exercising outside. Activities such as running or cycling outside tend to be more strenuous and burn more calories.
  • Green your thumb. Whether turning compost or pulling weeds, you’re burning calories when you’re gardening. The actual number depends on how much you weigh and what you’re doing. Estimates range from 61 calories per half-hour of watering to 344 calories burned through a half hour of double-digging. In fact, digging, according to a South Korean study that focused on people in their 20s, is the most high-intensity garden activity, while others—mulching, raking and weeding, for example — are of moderate intensity. Many studies have focused on the health benefits in older adults, including a Swedish study that found reduced risk of heart attacks for those 60 and older who engaged in activities like gardening. And a much-publicized University of Utah study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people involved in community gardening were less likely to be overweight, with considerably lower BMIs (body mass indices) than non-gardeners.
  • Take a hike (or a stroll). Research has shown that getting out into a natural setting, from a hike in the great outdoors to a walk in an urban park, can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. But a Scottish study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that a short walk can help clear “brain fatigue,” a distracted and forgetful state brought on by the hustle and bustle of city living. Researchers looked at the effects of a walk in the park through EEG recordings, which measure electrical activity along the scalp, and found that when the subjects walked through green spaces, they experienced less brain fatigue, were more meditative and were mentally quieter than when they walked through urban areas. An author of the study explained that while natural environments engage the brain, it’s an effortless engagement that allows for reflection. So the next time you’re feeling brain drain, it might be worth taking a break and clearing the mental fog with a walk. Or, if you’re looking to be more productive, getting outside can provide a respite from electronic distractions and interruptions.  Plus, studies have shown that being outside makes you feel more alive. Getting in touch with nature also may boost your immunity.
  • Be a happy camper. A camping trip can bring about all the benefits of being out in nature — the reduced stress and meditative properties, not to mention the calorie-burning and muscle-enhancing effects of an outdoor trek. A study from the Colorado University-Boulder found that camping can re-set your internal clock, helping to regulate sleep patterns. In other words, a few nights sleeping under the stars can undo the effects of electrical lighting and being plugged-in 24/7. After a camping trip, you may start your day more alert! The time spent around the campfire has benefits of its own as well. Countless studies have shown that spending time with friends and loved ones can boost immunity, reduce stress and (no shocker) make you feel happier! Plus, friends play an important role in helping you achieve fitness goals, so they can provide a helpful boost on hikes and walks.

What's your favorite thing to do outdoors?

Photo by Sergey Nivens/Dollar Photo Club