Five Surprising Benefits of Outdoor Fitness Areas

outdoor fitness areas

Most colleges and universities have guidelines for the amount of square footage per student they should provide for indoor recreation or health training. As enrollment increases and indoor space becomes less abundant, campus recreation departments utilize outdoor areas to provide health education and fitness training.

Let’s take a look at how augmenting your indoor training space with outdoor fitness areas can increase your capacity and further enhance student quality of life.

1. Vitamin D – The Sun’s Gift to Your Health

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time college student is indoors ⅔ of the day. That much time spent indoors can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.

When students are deficient in Vitamin D, they experience weakened immune systems, higher levels of inflammation, depressed mood, and poor bone health. The good news is spending as little as 10-30 minutes outdoors two to three days a week can help your body maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D.

2. Outdoor Exercise Challenges the Body and Mind in New Ways

When you train outdoors, changes in the environment and terrain force you to adapt to your surroundings. You work in new and different ways to sustain your movements and to focus on the exercise.

EXTRA CREDIT: Ensure your outdoor fitness strategy considers all five outdoor space elements of a well-rounded workout with a variety of options.

For example, running on a treadmill is a somewhat repetitive exercise with little change or variation. Running outdoors, by comparison, introduces variability to the terrain, elevation, and required effort. This kind of variation to your workout can make it more beneficial and reduce the likelihood of adaptation by various muscle groups.

3. Outdoor Fitness Areas Allow for a Social Experience

Colleges that implement outdoor training and workouts report an increase in participation among peers. Students enjoy meeting one another for a workout or a jog around campus. It encourages social interaction that is essential to improving quality of life.

Moreover, there is an added degree of accountability that comes with exercising outdoors. If you have a standing appointment to join your friends at a boot camp class or on a group run, you’re more likely to attend.

Virginia Tech created an outdoor fitness park for students to gather for group exercise classes, small group training, and special events. Situated in the middle of the principal residence halls, it is right outside the door of more than 4,000 students.

4. It Makes Exercise More Fun and Enjoyable

College can be tough on students, both physically and emotionally. Being outdoors in nature is linked to a positive mood and reduced anxiety–so is exercise. When you combine the two, you increase the enjoyment of working out by orders of magnitude.

At the College of William & Mary, students encourage other students to spend time outdoors during exam time. They hand out nature maps and tips for dealing with the stresses of college life. At UC Davis, students are encouraged to spend time outdoors as part of a NatureRx class.

These efforts to encourage students to be active outdoors generate positive results, such as:

  • Improvements to cognitive ability to concentrate and increase attention span
  • Elevated mood and improved sense of overall happiness
  • Reduced physical and psychological stress
  • Increased social connections and improved quality of social relationships
  • Improvements to overall physical health and mental well-being

 5. Outdoor Exercise Generates Results Quickly

One of the most extraordinary things about exercising outdoors is how quickly students see results, both physically and emotionally. In as little as 120 minutes per week, the cognitive and emotional benefits begin to accrue. Students see improvements to their physical health in a similar time frame.

It can be easy for students to add exercise time to their schedule. A 30-minute outdoor fitness training each weekday will do the trick, or a few jogs through the week with a long hike on the weekend will work. The important thing is to make spending active time outdoors a habit and a priority.

Jon Walker is a product manager with GameTime specializing in developing outdoor fitness products for people of all abilities and fitness levels. He works with parks professionals and campus recreation leaders to create fitness spaces that improve health and wellness and enhance quality of life. You can reach Jon at 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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