Why you should consider training outdoors

Lucy E Cousins interviews Hayden Thin for Real Insurance. 

While running comes naturally to some and through practise for others, it’s something that humans have been doing for thousands of years. And it turns out there’s a really good reason for that. Apart from being able to run away from sabre-tooth tigers, running is actually a great form of mental health management, says Master Trainer Hayden Thin.

In fact, he says, studies have also shown regular running at a moderate or vigorous pace can improve your mental health and even your memory and ability to learn.

“This happens by increasing levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor), a hormone produced in the brain only when exercising at higher intensity levels,” he says. “It stimulates the growth in the hippocampus, the cortex, and the basal forebrain.”

These are the areas, he adds, that are vital for learning, memory, and higher cognitive functions – the executive thinking part of the brain.

Why training outdoors is good for you

And while the cooler months tend to draw us inside to do our workouts, Hayden says we should still try to incorporate a little sunlight into our training as the added benefits of being outdoors are too good to ignore. Psychologist and Headspace App’s mental health expert, Carly Dober, agrees, saying that running outdoors is “incredible” for our mind and body.

“There’s a reason you may feel happier after a run outdoors,” she says. “Studies show that being out in green and blue spaces also helps support motivation and is good for our eyes by giving us a break from artificial light and screens.”

Spending time in nature can help you feel more relaxed and focused, she adds, especially when you take the time to notice your surroundings and engage in mindfulness.

Exposing yourself to sunlight can also improve your sleep. Not only does it help you feel more tired at night, but it can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and improve the quality of your rest.

How running outdoors affects us physically

From a physical aspect, Hayden says that exposing the body to the different stresses of variation in terrain and running surfaces can be beneficial by loading the muscles and soft tissue structures that support joints in different ways improving strength and stability.

“Beach running is a great example of this,” he adds. “And getting outside and having that fresh air saturate the lungs and body is always good for everything really!”

And if you’re training for an outdoor run, then train regularly on terrain that closely reflects the conditions of the event. That way, Hayden says, your body is prepared for what is to come.

“However, I recommend switching it up when required as there are advantages to running inside on a treadmill,” he says. “If it is too dark, wet, or cold outside, treadmills provide a controlled environment no matter the weather or conditions.”  

What to consider when training outdoors

The key to training outdoors is flexibility, says Carly, and doing what’s best for you and your schedule.

“Be flexible, run for enjoyment, include rest days and other joyful movements in your schedule, and make sure you listen to your body if it is requiring more rest,” she explains. “Personal preference is really important. You know your body best, try out a few different times of the day that you run and stick to what suits you.” 

For Hayden, the importance of preparation and safety in outdoor training can’t be overstated.

“Dress for the weather. When it’s hot, take extra water and wear lighter-coloured clothing a hat and sunscreen,” he says. “Stop running if you start to feel faint or sick in any way. In cold weather, wear layers of sweat-wicking fabric, a hat, and gloves.”

In addition, he says, get a trained professional to fit your running shoes, and ensure they have good support with a thick, shock absorbing-sole and are suitable for the runners’ feet and running style. This is extra important when running outdoors on uneven surfaces and trails.

“Stay alert while running outdoors and avoid wearing headphones or earbuds or anything else that can make you less aware of your environment,” he adds. “Be aware of the surface you are running on, especially if running off road. Potholes, sticks, and other similar objects, including slippery areas, can lead to accidents and injuries.” 

Lastly, he says, watch out for traffic and only run on the footpath when in urban environments. Don’t forget to run facing the direction of oncoming vehicles. Train in neighbourhoods, parks and on trails known to be safe and consider a running buddy to motivate you.

“Competing against yourself and your running buddy and achieving new running goals also provides a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “This fosters a more positive framing of situations and a happier outlook on all aspects of life!”

The combination of exercise and exposure to nature has a positive impact on our mood, motivation, and ability to relax. Running outdoors also challenges our bodies in different ways, improving strength and stability. So, lace up your shoes, step outside, and let the wonders of running in nature transform your mind, body, and spirit.

Are you ready to put running outdoors to the test? Be sure to sign up to the Real Insurance Sydney Harbour 10k & 5k on 23 July 2023!

Register now

This article is an opinion only, provided for general information purposes and should not be relied upon as personal advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care professional before starting any fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.