Is It Better to Exercise Indoors or Outdoors?

Cats or dogs? Coffee black or with cream? Exercise indoors or outdoors? These are the eternal questions, and the lines along which people can be divided. But when it comes to exercise, is it more than a preference? Is one actually better than the other?

Indoor Workouts

Pro: Tap into your competitive streak—and accountability

No one will know if you walk the last quarter-mile on a solo run, but some people routinely push themselves harder when they're matching their strides to the speed demon on the treadmill next to them, or are trying to pull ahead in the hill climb during spin class. You also can't skip those burpees in Tabata under the watchful eye of a hardcore instructor.

Pro: The social aspect

Heading to the gym may also be a better option for those who need extra motivation to make their workout happen. One study found that people who work out with a partner are generally more motivated than solo exercisers.

Pro: Treat yo'self

Any mental trick that puts you through your paces is a plus in our book. If a sauna or steam room-sit will power you through a HIIT workout, then it's worth it. Plus, these gym perks can make working out feel more luxe than doing lunges in the living room.

Con: Boredom

Anyone who has marathon trained on a treadmill knows the miles can feel long. Indoors, there's no scenery to admire or windows to spy inside. On the other hand, you could also say that fewer distractions keep you focused on the work at hand.

Con: Less Intensity

In studies that compare running on a treadmill and running outside, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, the New York Times reported. Treadmill runners face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle. Furthermore, people flex their ankles more when they run outside and occasionally run downhill, a movement that's not easily replicated on a treadmill and stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain.

Outdoor Workouts

Pro: Feeling Vital

Studies show that people who exercise outdoors report feelings of revitalization, decreased anger, and increased energy. Another study found that the outdoors have an overall positive effect on vitality, your sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy.

Pro: Vitamin Boost

Vitamin D—one of the fat-soluble vitamins essential to strong bones and a healthy immune system—can be obtained via sun exposure. There's also speculation that exposure to direct sunlight can give your mood a boost.

Con: Air Quality

If you live in an area prone to air pollution (looking at you, L.A.), you may be better off working out indoors. Pollution and other environmental factors can also trigger respiratory problems like allergies and asthma.

Con: Come Rain, Wind, and Snow

If it's raining, 108 degrees Fahrenheit—or 10 degrees below zero—and the gym means the difference between working out or not, then get thee to a treadmill or a spin class!

The Takeaway

If you're going for intensity and a mood boost, the perks of an outdoor workout might outweigh the pitfalls. But each day offers different weather and a different set of circumstances, to which we say, why choose? Variety is the spice of a boredom-free workout.

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