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The Simplest Way to Make Your Workout Feel Easier, According to Science

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Outdoor workout plank

Want to instantly make your workout feel easier and more fun? Take it outdoors. While simply spending more time in the great outdoors provides many health benefits, a new study shows it can also help you work out longer and stronger.

Researchers divided 42 healthy adults into three groups: One group hiked outdoors for 45 minutes, another group walked on a treadmill indoors for 45 minutes, while the control group did nothing—for a total of three hours over the course of the study. They then had participants rate their mood, feelings, and arousal. The results, published in PLOS One, found that while both walking groups got way more benefits than the couch potatoes, the outdoor exercisers had the best experience.

The hiking group reported feeling more awake, energized, attentive, happy, and calm as well as having more positive emotions overall than did those on the treadmill. The hikers also said they felt less fatigued after their workout. Basically, the hikers' workout felt easier physically and mentally, even though outdoor hikers and indoor treadmill walkers did the same amount of exercise.

Anyone who's been out hiking (or biking, or swimming, or any other outdoor sport for that matter) likely isn't too surprised by these findings—they don't call it a "mountain high" for nothing! But what is it, exactly, about exercising outdoors that makes it feel so much better? It has to do with the powerful combination of exercise and exposure to nature, explains Martin Niedermeier, Ph.D., a professor of sport science at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and lead author of the paper. The physical activity is invigorating, while seeing nature relieves stress. And the two together provide a benefit beyond either one alone.

For this reason, Niedermeier recommends not just taking your workout outdoors but going someplace you find beautiful and relaxing, with plenty of plants and water. "The positive effects are stronger the 'greener' or the 'more blue' the environment is perceived by the participants," he says. Although, yes, just being outside in the sun, walking around your neighborhood will still provide some added benefits.

Of course, it's not always possible to get outside and gyms have their upsides—protection from the elements when you need it, plus amenities like childcare, group classes, and personal training to name a few—but it's well worth your while to get outside when you can. Outdoor workouts provide a ton of health benefits beyond the mental ones described in this study, as we'll show you during July, our "Take It Outside" month.

Not a hiker? Turn your local playground into a gym with these sculpting moves or hit the beach for these strength and cardio moves. Want to stay even closer to home? Simply take your yoga practice outdoors. Or for more of a challenge, commit to our 30-day outdoor circuit training plan. Whatever you choose, bring on the summer sunshine.

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