Get more from outdoor workouts — safely

Want to supercharge the mood-boosting power of exercise? Use the great outdoors as your gym.

Person jogging

If you’re a gym rat or an avid runner, you’re in on the secret. But if you’re not, here it is: It’s hard to overstate the benefits of exercise. It does wonders for your physical health, warding off chronic disease and keeping you fit as you age.

Exercise is also great for your mental health. Research shows that regular physical activity can help fend off depression.

Use this year-round, step-by-step guide to make the most of your outdoor workouts — and your physical and mental health — without compromising safety.

Step 1: Switch things up each season

Doing the same old, same old gets boring — fast. But when you regularly have new activities to try and look forward to, it’s easier to get excited about actually doing them.

If you live in a snowy climate, try a cardio activity like snowshoeing. And when the weather warms up in summer, take advantage of fun-in-the-sun activities like swimming, pickleball, or hiking.

Switching your activities up can help your mood as well — giving your brain something new, challenging, and different to look forward to.

Another great workout regimen? BrainHQ’s science-backed brain exercises, which can sharpen your memory, focus, and speed. Did you know that BrainHQ may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan? Check your eligibility today.

Step 2: Protect yourself from the sun

Getting out and enjoying the sun can boost your mood. That’s because it increases the levels of serotonin in your brain. This is a brain chemical that makes you feel good. It can even help brighten your mood if you have anxiety and depression.

But exercising outside does have its hazards, too, like sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen is essential during outdoor workouts. It helps block the sun’s harmful rays and can reduce your risk of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Before you head outside, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Sport versions that are sweat- and water-resistant work best for exercise. Other sun-safe strategies:

  • Wear sun-protective workout clothes.
  • Put on a hat to protect your face and neck.
  • Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for a pair that blocks 100% of ultraviolet rays.

And remember: Sunscreen isn’t just for the summer. Sun exposure can cause skin damage any time of year, says the AAD. Even when you’re bundled up against the cold, you still need to use sunscreen on your face.

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Access to BrainHQ’s brain exercises may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan at no additional cost. Check your eligibility.

Step 3: Dress for the weather

You can exercise outdoors almost any time of year — as long as you have the right clothes:

  • In the summer, go for lightweight and light-colored fabrics. Dark colors absorb more heat from the sun, making you hotter.
  • In colder weather, dress in layers that you can peel off if you start to get too hot.
  • Moisture-wicking fabrics are a good call any time of year. They’ll keep you dry and help you regulate your body temperature.

If you’re too hot or you’re too cold, you’re going to be grumpy. That’s just science — and it’s not good for your mental health.

Step 4: Stay hydrated

Aim to drink water before you head outside to exercise, as well as during your workout and after you finish. Hydration is important in warm or cold weather. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes while exercising.

Pack a water bottle in your backpack or bike tote. If you’re exercising in a public park, make sure you know where the water fountains are. You’ll need to drink more water to stay hydrated as it gets hotter outside. “Working out in the heat of summer can be dangerous,” says Errick McAdams, a certified personal trainer in Washington, D.C. “It’s very important to stay hydrated.”

Proper hydration may be good for your brain, too. Your brain floats in a bath of salty water, and a study found that people who stay hydrated are more likely to have healthy moods.

Step 5: Get outside and enjoy nature

Another powerful brain booster? Spending time in nature. Simply going for a hike or walking through a local park can brighten your mood and make you happier. For example, participants in one study reported feeling less anxious and more upbeat after an immersive nature walk (called “forest bathing”).

“Even if you have gym access, I encourage everyone to get outside a few times a week and exercise, just to lift your spirits if nothing else,” says McAdams. Plus, the hills and wind resistance can add an extra physical challenge to your routine.

So if you’re looking for a mood lift, step outside, enjoy some nature, and try a new path! It’s good for your health, both physical and mental.

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Additional sources
Research on exercise and depression: Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Research on exercise and cognitive decline: Journal of Physiotherapy
Benefits of spending time in nature: American Psychological Association
Study on forest bathing and mood: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Wearing sunscreen: American Academy of Dermatology
Water intake recommendations: American Council on Exercise
Hydration and mood: World Journal of Psychiatry