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Would you rather watch The Walking Dead on a treadmill or feel like you’re part of it on a trail run? It’s better for us to take that jog outdoors than to plod away inside, according to research. For most of us, spring is getting close. Here’s how taking your sweat sesh into fresh air makes a difference:

Gain good vibes now

Doing a workout in nature boosts your mood, ups your energy, and increases feelings of joy more than doing the same activity indoors, according to a 2011 review of 11 studies in Environmental Science & Technology.

Repeat rewards

People are more likely to say they’ll repeat an outdoor walk than an indoor stroll (Environmental Science & Technology, 2011).

Care about the community

Students who watched nature videos were more likely to behave in ways that support the environment and cooperation with others than were those who viewed videos of artificial environments, according to a 2015 study in Journal of Environmental Psychology.

See the bigger picture

Looking at images of nature led people to seek long-term benefits rather than instant gratification, says a 2013 study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Step away from stress together

Walking in nature with friends increases our mental well-being and reduces the effects of stressful events, according to a 2014 study in Ecopsychology. Our physical health benefits too: People who live in leafy urban neighbourhoods feel healthier and are less prone to heart disease and diabetes than are those who live without trees, according to a 2015 study in Scientific Reports.

7 new ways to get fit outdoors

1  Frolfing or another game

FrolfingGrab a frisbee for a round of “frolfing” (i.e., frisbee or disc golf). It’s like regular golf without the club and the stuffy dress code. “It’s a good team sport that doesn’t require a huge commitment to fitness but is still a way to get active,” says Brianna C., a second-year undergraduate at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Other games students favour: frisbee, KanJam, croquet, and flag football.

How to frolf  |  Find a frolf course  |  Play KanJam 

2  Themed runs

RunnersEscape a zombie attack—you won’t even realize you’re getting a killer workout. Or get splashed with coloured powder in a 5K that feels like a party. Themed runs, from Tough Mudders to paint runs to undie runs, may get you moving after all. “Theme runs are a fun way to get non-runners into loving my crazy hobby,” says Chris G., a second-year graduate student in Canada.

Get chased by zombies  |  Find a mud run

3  Inline skating or skateboarding

Ropes climberDon’t overlook the whizzy stuff you may have skipped (or loved) as a kid. “Rollerblading is definitely making a comeback. I’m kind of a clumsy person, so I don’t make a point of speed-skating down the sidewalks, but the motion is smooth and the breeze feels great,” says Reilly G., an undergraduate, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Skateboarding is another means of transport with similar thrill potential.

Find a trail

4  Paddleboarding or kayaking

KayakerPaddle your way to fit in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Work on your balance, challenge your core strength, and pretend it’s as easy as everyone’s Instagram suggests. Try SUP yoga—just leave crow pose to the pros. “Kayaking is one of the best outdoor sports. Nothing feels better than riding on water during your favourite time of the day,” says Dharamdeo R., a graduate student at the University of Windsor, Ontario.

Paddleboarding for beginners  |  Kayaking basics

5  Rock climbing or bouldering

Person boulderingYou don’t need to be superhuman to scale surfaces. “Rock climbing gets you outside. There are many places, outdoors and indoors, to do this in both Canada and US,” says Marc J., a fifth-year undergraduate at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. Or try bouldering: climbing close to the ground on a low-lying rock.

Bouldering basics  |  Guide to rock climbing

6  Hammocking

Forest Bather“It’s this generation’s version of sitting in rocking chairs on a front porch,” says Maryevalyn W., an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “It’s easy to set up a hammock in the woods or in a park between poles or trees and just chill out.” Research on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” (spending time in wooded areas), has shown physical and emotional health benefits. For more foresty action, take a hike or take photos.

More about shinrin-yoku  |  Guide to hammocking

7  Trail biking

Trail RunnerLife is too short not to try biking off-road. Explore national and provincial state parks and incorporate a meditation-inducing destination. “It’s the best way to rid myself of stress. You just take in the scenery, get a little adrenaline rush, and burn off energy. You feel mentally revitalized,” says Santo B., a fifth-year student at the University of Windsor, Ontario.

Get started with off-road biking  |  Find a race or an event

Rock climbing InstagramYour Best Instagram

“Living in Wyoming gives a lot of options for outdoor activities. Rock climbing gives you a huge sense of accomplishment when you can complete a tough route you have been working on. It also forces you to build muscles you never really realize you have. I never thought about building my finger strength until I started rock climbing. It just brings a totally different form of being active to my life.”
—Kirsten Jacobson, University of Wyoming

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Article sources

Coon, J. T., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., et al. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental well being than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), 1761–1772.

Godbey, G. (2009). Outdoor Recreation, Health, and Wellness: Understanding and Enhancing the Relationship. Prepared for the Outdoor Resources Review Group. RFF DP 09–21. Retrieved from https://usplaycoalition.clemson.edu/resources/articles/Godbey_Outdoors_and_Wellness.pdf

Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., et al. (2015). Neighborhood green space and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports, 5, 11610.

Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N., & Warber, S. L. (2014). Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large-scale study. Ecopsychology, 6(3), 134–147.

Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., et al. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 15(1), 18–26. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

Student Health 101 survey, November 2016.

Van der Wal, A. J., Schade, H. M., Krabbendam, L., & van Vugt, M. (2013). Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1773). Retrieved from https://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1773/20132295

Zelenski, J. M., Dopko, R. L., & Capaldi, C. A. (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42(6), 24–31. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494415000195

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Chelsey Taylor works as an editor and content manager. She taught English in South Korea as a Fulbright Fellow and has a BA in anthropology from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and the managing editor of JHStyle Magazine based in Jackson Hole, Colorado. Her writing credits include the International Journal of Wilderness, Mountain Outlaw, Teton Family Magazine, Big Sky Weekly, and Dishing. Her MS in natural resources is from Humboldt State University in California.