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To hit the gym or hit the footpath?

The benefits of outdoor exercise revealed.

We all know that regular exercise can work wonders for your physical and mental health. But can where you exercise —  indoors or outside — make a difference to the effectiveness of your workout? Studies indicate the answer may be yes — here’s how.

Boosting your mental health

One study by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found that exercise conducted in natural, outdoor environments was more effective than indoor exercise in decreasing tension, confusion, anger and depression amongst participants, and also resulted in increased energy. According to the study, participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor exercise and had a greater intent to repeat their exercise in the future.

Building muscle groups

Whether you’re running in a park or hitting the city pavement, you’ll generally encounter uneven terrain and hills while exercising outdoors. Accounting for this unpredictable terrain can result in additional muscle groups being engaged, therefore allowing these to strengthen. One study also found treadmill runners expended less energy than those running outside — due primarily to a lack of wind residence, which you’ll natural encounter when exercising in the outdoors.

Exposure to sunlight

Assuming you’re working out during daylight hours, exercising outdoors will naturally expose you to sunlight. Sunlight is the most effective natural source of vitamin D — which is essential for maintaining general l health, and strong bones and muscles. However with exposure to the sun comes an increased risk of skin cancer, therefore it’s essential you ‘slip, slop, slap’ ahead of any outdoor exercise to ensure your skin is protected from harmful UV rays.

Some outdoor workout inspiration

Data from the Medibank Better Health Index has found that 1 in 2 Aussies (48%) have not done any formal exercise in the last 3 months, and even less have opted for outdoor workouts.

A great way to get active outdoors is through parkrun, which is a free, timed 5 kilometre event which takes place in more than 180 parks and open spaces around the country every Saturday morning. Whether you’re walking the 5 kilometres with your mates, or running to try and beat your PB, parkrun offers a fun and laid-back community feel and ensures you’ll kickstart your weekend the right way. For more info, visit parkrun.com.au.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling more adventurous, the Medibank Melbourne Marathon Festival is coming up on 16 October. If you’re not up to a full marathon, you can always opt for one of the shorter distances, such as the 21km half marathon, or the 10km run.

A note on injuries

While there are numerous benefits to exercising outdoors, indoor exercise does provide a more controlled environment, which may be better suited to you if you’re recovering from injury. If you’re unsure what exercise is best suited to your needs, have a chat to your GP.

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