What is the difference between training indoors and outdoors?

There's good scientific reason why there is a difference between outdoor and indoor exercise. It starts with how we pay attention to the world around us and function within it.

During most of our waking hours, we use our directed-attention ability, which helps us stay on task, take an exam or drive in heavy traffic. Directed attention -- while useful for success in many life functions -- demands concentrated effort. It leaves us feeling mentally fatigued and even stressed.

By contrast, being in natural settings triggers involuntary attention. We use this when watching a flickering campfire or the moving water of a stream. Involuntary attention is easier on the mind, helping to rebuild and renew directed-attention strength.

When people exercise outdoors in nature, they are not only exercising their body, but likely restoring attention and receiving physiological stress-reduction benefits. It's a whole-body effect versus just the physical. Research findings have show that walking in a park setting for 20 minutes improved the attention performance of children with attention deficits, compared to walking in more built settings. Similarly, another study released in 2008 showed that walking in natural environments or even simply looking at pictures of nature scenes restored the cognitive functioning of a group of college students.

Combining nature and physical activity -- a phenomenon called green exercise -- produces a positive effect on physical and emotional health. Green exercise has been shown to significantly improve self-esteem and mood and reduce blood pressure. Although exercise burns the same amount of calories whether performed inside or out, green exercise may encourage you to burn more calories because it's often cheaper and easier than a gym or fitness club, usually provides a better visual and sensory experience than being inside and may be more easily adapted to your changing interests and needs. Exercising in a natural environment produces higher levels of positive emotions, with less tension and stress, which encourages you to exercise longer.
Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine
Exercise outside whenever possible, so you can get some sunshine, fresh air, and vitamin D in the process. We have been told to stay out of the sun to prevent cancer. However, this is awful advice. More than 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from sunshine. A number of studies have shown an association between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes, including a UCLA study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 that showed that people with vitamin D deficiency are at higher risk of both insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome-two conditions that drive sugar cravings. What you want to do is avoid sunburn, not sunshine.
The environment is yet another major difference between riding on a trainer versus riding on the road. Heart rate is usually higher on the trainer because of those warmer conditions and lack of cooling. On the open road, wind blows by us constantly providing a very good cooling effect. Indoors it is normally warmer, and even in the best conditions using a fan, there are not the same cooling effects on the trainer. Most of us just get too warm riding on the trainer. The cooler you can get the environment and the more airflow you can get around the body (with more fans) the cooler you will be during the workout. You’ll be amazed by how adding a couple of fans to a room can increase your capacity to produce power on the trainer. Keeping cool will have a huge effect on the quality of your workouts. You’ll also notice that with better cooling your heart rate will be lower and more in line with what is expected from outdoor riding.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.