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9 Why’s and How’s of Working Out Outdoors

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I love being able to get outside to walk or run. I’ll admit that for the last several months, I’ve been lazy. I haven’t really run since the spring. I’ve gained more weight than I’d like and I know it’s time to get serious again. A few weeks ago, when I started making a concerted effort to get up early, I started making time for working out outdoors again.

Some reasons for working out outside and tips for doing so successfully

photo credit sara on flickr



The first couple of weeks were great. Brianna joined me a couple of mornings and the weather was perfect. Then, it got cold and rainy, and I slipped back into the habit of just walking on the treadmill and watching Friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with walking on the treadmill indoors. It’s certainly better than not walking at all. However, toward the middle of last week, the weather was really mild again, so I decided to get back outside.

It made such a difference! I was quickly reminded why I like to walk or run outside so much more than I like to do so on the treadmill and why I think getting outside is a better choice – for me, anyway.

Why should you workout outside?

Fresh air and sunshine

I’m not a huge outdoorsy person, but I think everyone needs a good dose of fresh air and sunshine each day – even when it’s cold outside. As a matter of fact, the fresh air is such a big deal that I think it’s important to get outside even if it’s not a beautiful, sunshiny day. I won’t walk or run in a downpour, but a little rain never hurt anyone.

Even just a 15 minute stroll around the block is going to make most people feel better. In addition to improving my physical health, fresh air and sunshine lifts my mood.

The 50’s – perfect temperatures for walking or running outside

Being a born-and-raised southern girl, Brianna thinks like I used to – anything below 60 degrees is cold! However, I discovered over the last couple of years that the 50’s are optimal running and walking temps. I usually wear a light jacket until I warm up – and it takes longer to warm up when I’m walking instead of running – but 50’s are still short-sleeve shirt and workout shorts weather.

The first year I ran, I told my running buddy that I wouldn’t be running when it dropped below 40. She looked at me in surprise and told me that she ran even in the 20’s. I thought she was crazy until I discovered the concept of layers and body heat. Each layer adds 10-15 degrees, so it’s only a matter of a long-sleeved shirt (the layer touching your skin should be moisture-wicking) and a jacket to get back up to the optimal 50 degree range.

I add gloves, a hat or headband that covers my ears, and cold-weather socks when it gets into the 30’s and below, but I’ve discovered that cold weather really isn’t an excuse for not getting outside to walk or run.

More challenge

Getting outdoors to walk or run adds more challenge than being on the treadmill. Sure, I can add some incline to the treadmill, but that’s nothing compared to the hills in my subdivision. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, the hill on which I live is about a 40% grade. That means I get to end every workout with a really nice challenge.

There’s also something to be said for being forced to propel yourself. On a treadmill, I often feel like I’m just keeping up with the moving belt. On pavement, I’m doing all the work – and there are no bars to cling to. Holding on to the treadmill bars, which I am always guilty of doing when I’m walking – reduces the intensity of your workout and can cause injury.

Regulate speed

I always feel like I get a better workout outside because I regulate my speed based on intensity. This is especially true when I’m running because I often unconsciously slow down after a challenging section of terrain, then speed back up after I’ve caught my breath. The may sound counter-intuitive, since the treadmill causes you to maintain a consistent pace. However, that consistent pace doesn’t take effort into account.

So, if I run for a few minutes on an increased incline, then level out, but my pace stays the same, I’m not getting the recovery time that I do if I’m running outside. That usually translates into more fatigue. When I can self-regulate, I tend to have much faster top speeds than I am able to achieve on the treadmill.

I find that I cover more ground in less time when I’m walking outside, as well, and although I don’t wear my Garmin when I walk (so I don’t have the data that I get for a run), I feel sure it’s for the same reason.

Time to think

When I walk or run outside I have time to think – well, unless someone goes with me and that’s okay, because then I have time to catch up with my walking or running buddy. If I go alone, though, I have 30-45 minutes alone with my thoughts, as opposed to 30-45 minutes to watch a couple of Friends episodes when I’m on the treadmill.

I rarely listen to music when I walk or run. When I first started running, I could imagine not listening to music and I probably never would have tried it sans iPod were it not for the “no headphones” rule in the first half-marathon I ran. I was surprised to find that I actually prefer no music.

It’s amazing what you can work out in your mind as you walk or run. At the very least, I can get the skeleton of a blog post composed in my mind – like this one!

How to safely workout outside

Now that I’ve convinced you (maybe) of the benefits of walking or running outside, you need to know what kind of equipment you need to do so. The best thing is, walking and running require very little equipment and most of it is expensive, relatively speaking when considering other sports or fitness activities.


The most important piece of equipment is probably a good, well-fitting pair of running or walking shoes. For best results, I recommend getting professionally fitted. I had terrible problems with my knees and plantar fasciitis until I got the right shoes. I’m sure that shoes won’t cure all ills, aches, and pains, but they can go a long way toward alleviating them.


I like to know how far I’ve walked. Sure, I could drive my route with the car and find out, but I like to shoot for a total of 10,000 steps per day, so I need to know what I’m doing beyond my morning walk.

When I initially lost all my weight, I wore a bodybugg, which included a pedometer. Now, I really love my FitBit. It gives me my step count and distance in miles, plus it approximates my calorie burn.

And, of course, I love my Garmin for running, but that’s a little overkill for walking in the neighborhood.

Safety equipment

You want to be safe when you go out. A walking buddy is probably your best bet (and provides the greatest level of accountability), but sometimes it’s hard to find someone who is available when you are. In that case, I would consider taking your dog, if you have one. He’ll probably enjoy the excise, too. It won’t hurt anything if he’s big and menacing-looking, even if you know he’s really a teddy bear.

Always take your phone. You never know what might happen. A can of mace might be a good idea and reflective clothing will help keep you visible if you walk before or after the sun is fully up.

Proper clothing

Girls, you need a good bra if you’re going to be walking and most definitely if you’re going to be running. My favorite running bra is kind of a pain in the behind to put on, but it makes a huge difference. Enough said.

You also might want to consider a good rain jacket. You know, so there are no excuses.

Do you prefer working out outside? If so, what do you like best about it? If not, what’s holding you back?


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  1. I love to walk and think as well…I do much blog planning as well. 🙂

    I also love, love, love my FitBit! My husband has one too and we have a very friendly competition each day to see who gets the most steps. It keeps us motivated.

    I do outdoor walks about half the time…depending on how much time I have to fit in my walk.

    Enjoyed your post!

    1. Hey, I might have to consider getting my husband a FitBit for that reason. The only thing is, he’s very competitive and he works a job where he does a lot of walking. He’d probably slaughter me. Still, it might be good incentive. I’ll have to see if I can find you on the FitBit site. I’ve got a couple of friends on there and that does add a layer of incentive and accountability.

      1. He always beats me…FitBit sends me an email each week and ranks the two of us and it isn’t uncommon for him to have 20,000+ more steps than I do but I am fine with that. I shoot for 10,000 during the week and 12,000 on the weekends. If I make that goal, I am happy.

  2. Great post! I have been walking all summer and thinking, “What will I do when winter hits?” You have encouraged me to keep going! I live in the desert southwest, so we get cold weather, but really, it isn’t all that bad. I’m motivated now. Thanks!

    1. I’m glad I could motivate you. I never thought I’d enjoy running in the winter, but I do…once I get going. 🙂

  3. Agree! You mentioned my 2 favorite reasons – fresh air/sunshine and time to think. Although I’m outside walking everyday with my dogs, I run/walk 3 days a week (for me) and look forward to that time to think and have some quiet time. I usually come back with a few new ideas or at least a new perspective about something. I also enjoy using that time to work toward my personal goals of preparing for my next race.

    1. You know, I think I need to start making sure I’ve always got a race coming up. Having a goal keeps me focused. I’ve been lazy lately and I never thought, after I started running half-marathons, that I’d ever be at the place where I’d need to train for a 5K…but I am and I do. My husband and I are getting ready to sign up for a 5K in December. I’ve run this race three times – a 10K the first time, a 5K the last time, and I’ll do the 5K this time. It will only be my husband’s second 5K, so we’re really excited…and knowing that it’s coming up gave me the boost I needed to run some this morning instead of walking the entire time.

  4. I just found your blog. It looks really good. I’ve been reading a lot of Charlotte Mason and she suggests heavily to do lots of outdoor time daily! I just don’t know how I’m going to do it in the winter! It gets so cold here (Northern PA) and I get so cold so easily! I will make an effort…but…… I hate the cold!

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