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


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  79 comments   :  19,879 Views

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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  • 79
    I started running on a treadmill, but once I transitioned to outdoors, I find it almost impossible to run indoors now. I will run in any kind of weather. The only thing that keeps me indoors is lightening. - 10/13/2017   8:17:10 AM
  • 78
    good points - 9/9/2017   12:15:54 PM
  • 77
    Thanks - 8/18/2017   8:14:22 PM
  • 76
    I much prefer to run outdoors. It is such a stress reliever and I don't like treadmills. I enjoy the fresh air and don't like the idea of a machine taking place of my running paths. I had a treadmill and found it so boring I lost interest quickly but the wide open outdoors is a phenomenal feeling with the breeze on your back. - 2/8/2015   12:41:27 AM
  • 75
    Nothing beats a good outdoor run when the sun is shining and the sky is clear. I'd pick outside over inside any day! - 2/20/2014   3:19:49 PM
  • 74
    I definitely prefer to run outside. Unfortunately, I don't live in an area that is safe for runners due to busy roads and lack of a shoulder or sidewalk to run on. I do drive to nearby parks and a nearby city to run a few times per week. I had previously done al running on the treadmill, which can get very boring. - 10/30/2012   11:07:09 AM
  • 73
    Love to run outdoors but do use the treadmill when I can't get outside. - 4/15/2012   12:31:03 PM
    @ KILLERANGEL47...Running IS awful when you first start and try to do too much too soon. Its definitely a process and a slow one but oh so worth it if you need to tone up & feel stronger all over. The book "Run Your Butt Off" definitely helped me because it uses a run/walk method and teaches you to really listen to your body and run at your own pace. Most helpful advice is that your run shouldnt necessarily be faster than your walk! If it hurts just slow down..if you're breathing too hard, slow down...and when I took that advice I found that the shin pain stopped and I wasnt gasping for air when I switched back to the walking segment. Not sure what your level is but Its definitely for beginners similar to the free couch to 5k programs but with lots more helpful advice. Hope that helps and keeps you running! (I started at miserable 1 min run and am now up to 15min. woo hoo) Also I started running in summer, outdoors and took my running indoors on the treadmill in Nov. and found it is much easier than outdoors with the hills, terrain, and ground that doesnt move for you - 1/24/2012   1:56:13 PM
  • 71
    I always enjoy my walking outdors but when it comes to running I prefer the indoors. Go figure! I will give outdoor running another try this summer. - 1/18/2012   5:45:47 PM
    I much prefer to run outdoors. However, my issue this time of year is not so much the dark (my schedule is flexible enough that morning runs after 8:30 won't mess me up) but ICE on the sidewalks! In previous years I would run on the small indoor track at my Y, but this year I'm giving the treadmills a try. One thing I like is being able to push my pace more consistently - I'm working my way up to running an entire mile at a 10 minute pace (my natural pace when running alone outside is more in the 11 to 12 minute range). Otherwise, I kinda hate the treadmill, because I also have that tendency to focus on the readout. - 1/15/2012   4:37:51 PM
    I used to be an outdoor runner until I moved into a neighborhood without sidewalks. I tried running in the street a few times until a local runner was sent to the hospital when he was struck by a vehicle backing out of a driveway! After that I decided to upgrade my treadmill! - 1/10/2012   3:59:01 PM
    I can't seem to run outdoors at all but I can run for about 2 minutes on the treadmill. I'm hoping as I lose weight I will be able to run more. However, being a smoker, I'm not sure becoming a real runner is in my future. - 1/10/2012   11:24:44 AM
    I'm an outdoor runner. I love getting outside and breathing the air and looking at the scenery, and try to change up my routes so it doesn't get boring. One day I might go a hilly route to get that extra training in, and if I'm having a bit of an off day, I'll just follow the flat paved route. I agree with Jen...once it gets darker out, it makes it harder to run outside, and on a treadmill I tend to watch how far I've gone (or have to go yet) or how much longer I have. I just have a difficult time getting into it. I'm fortunate that I'm a shiftworker, so I can get my runs in during the sunny mornings. This year I decided to do a 1/2 marathon in December and in January to help keep me focused and training through the winter months. Sure, it's tough to get out there when the weather's not so good, but having that goal in front of me definitely has helped. Happy running and walking everyone! - 1/3/2012   2:19:39 PM
  • 66
    Outdoors - oh YEAH! I just love walking my dog, so indoors is impossible. I often walk by a fitness studio, with people walking on treadmills RIGHT in front of windows and I just don't get it. I'm physically doing the same thing they are, but they're staring at a WALL! I get NATURE!!! - 12/31/2011   2:13:57 AM
  • 65
    Outside is better! I live in Florida so winter is the BEST time for outdoor walking/jogging! Some days I hit the treadmill, especially if I only have time for a couple miles. - 12/28/2011   1:13:47 PM
  • 64
    I love to run, period. I discovered running last year and took part in two 10K races last summer. In Canada, the winter season changes my training running wise. Some of us runers still do it outdoors facing snow, icy roads and the cold. In the fall, I go back to the treadmill. When the weather is nice, I prefer running outside. Running is my active meditation. Wether I do it inside or out, it is my special time to center and connect within. - 12/28/2011   12:27:48 PM
  • 63
    outdoors. definitely. its amazing what mother nature can do for the psyche - 12/28/2011   9:31:01 AM
    Outdoors - yes!!! Even with music or the tv I can't do more than a few miles on the "Dreadmill" - B O R I N G - 12/28/2011   8:53:44 AM
  • 61
    I like walking out of doors because I like the fresh air but, in the winter in wi it gets too cold so then I go to the gym and use the treadmill. That is ok too because there are lots of people and tv's to watch plus it's a lot better than being down in my family room which is pretty dreary. - 12/27/2011   11:53:21 PM
  • 60
    I just started running outdoors over Christmas (the gym is closed, so I had no choice) and I hate it! It REALLY hurts!! Running downhill is awful!! It makes calves and shins hurt like hell! D': Running uphill makes me feel really breathless too, I can't run more than I few minutes at a time without having to stop. Oh well. I just need to get used to it, I suppose. I have only being doing it for 3 days after all! I wouldn't say itís harder, though, just different. It's just another thing to get used to. It took ages to get used to the treadmill and it has its own set of challenges that running outside on the street does not have. But Iím already getting fitter! My breathing is less laboured and I am finding that I can run past some of my rest points! :D I would already be running faster and longer if it wasn't for my sore legs. Oh well. I will keep it up. My legs will adapt. - 12/27/2011   5:31:59 PM
  • 59
    would absolutely be outdoor running, love the the fresh air, especially when its cooler out, very refreshing - 12/27/2011   11:52:17 AM
  • 58
    I have bad knees so if i run they swell up. I love walking any where is good as long as i am able to walk. As a Rambler most sundays i walk about 9.5miles or more in the country side good weather or bad. I am thank full. - 12/27/2011   10:54:23 AM
    for me it's the outdoor option - 12/26/2011   11:02:07 PM
    Running on a treadmill helps me to be encouraged to run at faster speeds, to challenge myself, it can be really fun. Running outside is a very focused event for me, where I can enjoy listening to awesome music while praying and encouraging myself to continue onward. - 12/26/2011   12:09:10 PM
  • 55
    I prefer to walk outside. The cold invigorates me. It makes me hurry up a little more. Plus I just like the feeling of being outdoors. - 12/26/2011   5:29:33 AM
  • 54
    safety, weather, pacing, less likely to quit, reduced soreness afterward are all reasons I tend to exercise indoors rather than outside - sunshine and improved mood, variety/nature, combining exercise with errands are reasons I go outside. - 12/26/2011   2:09:01 AM
  • 53
    I prefer indoors at this time of year as it is freezing outside - 12/25/2011   4:05:43 PM
  • 52
    I prefer to walk outside but sidewalks and roadways are too dangerous in the winter because of the ice. (And the people that don't know how to drive in the snow are pretty scary too.) - 12/25/2011   1:42:42 PM
    I don't run, but I love being outdoors, cycling or snow-shoeing. It makes a huge difference to me compared to going to my club. I'm thrilled that I have the club as a back up, and I do love some of the classes I attend (Zumba, Step), but there's nothing like being outdoors. - 12/25/2011   10:54:09 AM
  • 50
    I like to go outside and walk the little dogs. I've used the treadmill at the gym, and that's OK, but the pups don't get their exercize. We've has some snowy windy days in the last couple of weeks - took the pups to the local Petsmart and walked them inside for an hour. Not as satisfying, but it got the job done! - 12/25/2011   2:46:07 AM
  • 49
    Definetly outside. I do notice a difference between working out inside and working out outside. - 12/25/2011   12:16:47 AM
  • 48
    I prefer to walk outside, but I feel safer and it is more convenient to walk inside. - 12/24/2011   10:40:57 PM
  • 47
    I much prefer to run outside. I feel I can longer and faster outside then on the treadmill. I make too many stops on the treadmill. When I'm outside, I feel like just going and don't have the need to stop and breath. - 12/24/2011   10:34:15 PM
  • 46
    I like to run outdoors :D - 12/24/2011   7:08:28 PM
  • 45
    I prefer to walk out doors. - 12/24/2011   6:36:32 PM
  • 44
    I'm a walker and I prefer outdoors to indoors. Somewhere during my walk outside I get the "life is good" message that I never get when I walk indoors. I've also noticed that I do better on weigh-in day when I've walked outside all week than when I've walked inside all week. That said, I do resort to walking inside when it is especially wet/cold/dark. - 12/24/2011   3:54:22 PM
  • 43
    I walk with a cane, outdoors. The comments from runners here are interesting. I nod, smile, or speak to everyone I encounter -- a lot of folks in my urban neighborhood -- and I can recall only one runner ever even bothering to nod back at me. I wondered about the enjoyment of running when the runners I see look as if completing some self-imposed punishment: grim, determined, not seeming to enjoy their running or the music in their earbuds. Hmmm.

    Just today, I saw a woman with a jogging stroller cross a 5-lane major street just before the light changed. We'd missed the "Walk" light and the red light wasn't going to hold for long, but apparently she was determined to continue jogging even if it meant endangering the child in the stroller in a 35-MPH zone. The light changed before she made it across the last lane. Thank goodness no one rushed the light! I sure hope SP runners use more sense. - 12/24/2011   3:07:15 PM
    I like you enjoy running outside rather than inside because of the fresh air. I have a treadmill and use it a lot especially during the winter. I try my best to get outside to run on the weekends. The only thing I don't like about that is it is so late to get out and run. I am an early morning riser and like to get my run done right when I get up; not a couple of hours later. - 12/24/2011   3:06:11 PM
  • 41
    it's too cold here to run outside. I love my treadmill don't get me wrong but I prefer to run outside. I am just not a fan of being cold so I use my treadmill...can't seem to dress warm enough to be outside and it's slick out too. So I use my treadmill until spring and then outside I go. I don't seem to notice any difference in my running weither on my treadmill or outside. - 12/24/2011   1:48:21 PM
    I always thought I preferred the treadmill because I could still watch TV and retain my couch potato attitude. I new adopted, and very active dog has forced me to move outdoors. Even in the cold, I love it. Granted, I haven't encountered frigid temps yet, but I'm preparing and making my plan for how to handle it when it happens. The Spark fuse it lit!! - 12/24/2011   12:21:36 PM
    outside but it has been so darn cold lows in the single digits and highs just above freezing not that brave - 12/24/2011   11:36:06 AM
  • 38
    Outdoors definitely. I like the fresh air, scenery and running into people along the way who greet me with a "hello" or a smile. - 12/24/2011   11:21:44 AM
  • 37
    I walk outdoors almost every day. I love getting fresh air and watching the light change, the snow, the leaves opening on the trees. I walk to and from my gym to get my warm-up cardio in. I walk to appointments and meetings around town instead of driving. And I walk our dog when I get home from work. I track it all on my SP Fitness page.

    My two younger sisters just ran the NYC marathon at age 59 and 58, but both have problems with feet and knees as a result of their years of running. Sure, running may be 'sexier', but in my opinion walking is healthier in the long run. - 12/24/2011   10:36:49 AM
  • 36
    I am a walker, and the dog and I have done more than one walk wearing our raincoats, umbrella jammed in my pocket. I also use no music or other forms of artificial noise.......much prefer the sights and sounds of nature or the beauty of the surrounding archetecture. Today's walk will be in town, seeing my adopted ciaty full of Christmas decorations..........probably won't be much histle and bustle of the crowds, everyone goes to the mall! We'll both bundle up, the dog loves showing off her coats! - 12/24/2011   10:13:24 AM
  • 35
    I can absolutely relate to this article. I love to go hiking and much prefer it to my treadmill. It is my time to not only enjoy nature and get exercise, but it is also a time of reflection to think through problems without life's normal distractions. - 12/24/2011   9:56:00 AM
  • 34
    I'd rather walk inside on a treadmill since I worry about being hit by a car walking out on the street. In October one of my sons was hit by a car while riding his bike in our neighborhood. Guy came up to the main street as my son was riding down it and the guy was looking the other way and just pulled out and hit my son knocking him to the pavement. He wasn't hurt more than hands and knees, etc. thankfully. I'm 62 so I can't afford to get hit like that. - 12/24/2011   9:52:57 AM
  • 33
    I walk. And I very much prefer to walk outdoors. We have quiet roads and lots of trails in the woods nearby. Those trails are so peaceful and relaxing! - 12/24/2011   9:13:58 AM
  • 32
    When I first started running, it was on the treadmill, because I didn't want anyone to see what I looked like. Once that I started running outdoors, I find it extremely difficult to run on the treadmill. I have run outdoors in some weird weather, just to *not* run on the mill. It has given me some great stories to share! - 12/24/2011   8:48:35 AM
    I can run eirther inside or outdoors, but I prefer running on the trail next to my house. It is also used as a Nordic walking trail. - 12/24/2011   8:43:08 AM
  • 30
    Outdoors! Starting training a couple years ago in January and ran in the cold, cool and warm. Can't run in HOT weather very well, but I sold my treadmill because once I started running outdoors, I couldn't run inside any more. - 12/24/2011   8:07:08 AM

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