Outdoor Runners Burn More Calories: They Work Harder Too

Running outside boosts moods and burns more calories ...

When you run outside you get a boost from Mother Nature: the trail flies along underneath you and you're adjusting as you go along.  Sometimes flat, sometimes uphill, sometimes soft terrain, sometimes flat top; you're body needs to make a million adjustments in order to run outside and helps provide a big boost in mood from being out in the world.  You work harder and burn more calories too. So says one of my favorite fitness writers, James S. Fell, in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. I completely agree with him. Outdoor exercise boosts moods, even just a quick 15 minutes can make you feel better.  Also, by varying your terrain and rolling along with hills and valleys, you'll be training your muscles in a variety of different impact positions.  This means stronger quads, hamstrings, and glutes, and it also means stronger ankles and knees.  (As long as you don't push yourself too hard!)  That said, there are good reasons for treadmill training too.

Reasons for Using a Treadmill

Asthma. I have a touch of asthma and it really only bothers me on those steamy, humid summer days.  In those conditions, I really struggle with an outdoor run and I'm in much better shape if I pop on a treadmill instead.  I can get my miles in without using an inhaler. Recovering from injury. Treadmill beds have up to 40% softer impact than the surface you're running on, especially if you're a sidewalk jogger.  If you're fighting an injury or recovering from one, consider using the treadmill to get your body used to running again before heading back outside. It's bloody cold outside. If you'd rather burrow under your blankie than run in cold temperatures, I can relate.  But if the mercury really would cause you to skip a workout, hop on a treadmill instead.  You'll get your miles in and you can watch really bad TV. There is one great advantage to outdoor running in keeping your promise to run a certain number of miles that James pointed out.  If you run say three miles from your house, you've gotta get back.  Unless you flag a cab, you're under your own steam to return home.  (I did, shamefully, flag an MBTA bus once and begged for a ride home because I had no fare money on me and the very nice lady let me on.) While running outside is the best way to go for most people, it's not the be all, end all.  The most important thing is that you're running; everything else is just gravy.  Stay safe, train smart, and enjoy what you're doing. How do you like to run? Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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11 Responses to Outdoor Runners Burn More Calories: They Work Harder Too

  1. Dean Ouellette November 16, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Hills? Obviously someone lives in new england and not the flat desert of Phoenix. To get hills I need to drive to the surrounding mountains. But yes, running outdoors, even in the heat beats treadmill running 100% of the time for me.

    Love going to parks with some trails or the mountains on the hiking trails on saturdays. The rest of the time its just the flat streets of arizona, but still better than the treadmill.

  2. Lisa Johnson November 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    LOL, true Dean you’ve got no hills! Maybe out by Sedona? Perhaps jumping curbs as you run by ;-) but I’m glad, in general, that you agree … L–

  3. Jenn Givler November 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Outside! Hands down… After I lost about 25 pounds, I was ready to get off the treadmill and run outside… Trail running is my favorite. I don’t think I’ve set foot on the mill for 2 years or so…

  4. Lisa Johnson November 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Good for you Jenn :-)

  5. John Falchetto November 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Awesome a great motivation to go trail running as the weather gets increasingly cooler.
    I stopped running on paved surfaces a year ago, not because I was injured but because it bored me and I saw many of my running partners develop injuries.
    I have always had a serious crush on trail runs and never had any attraction to marathons. Weird how 50k on a trail makes me want to go YA! when 42k on a road in a city depresses me.

    Funny you mention asthma, I have serious asthma and manage to control my exercise induced asthma through breathing techniques I learned in yoga.

  6. Harold November 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    I love running outside much more, especially now that I live in a rural area. I no longer run with ear buds, I listen more to nature and since I live in Maine we have all 5 seasons our extra one is mud season – otherwise known as April. Hills where I live are just part of the deal. I would love to find a flat 5 mile course, but there isn’t such a thing without driving into town :-) Working on getting rid of the extra flub and getting back in shape.

    Treadmills are great for doing your speed workouts, can’t cheat as easily in my experience.


  7. Janice - The Fitness Cheerleader November 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Interesting, this is yet another reason for me to call it the dreadmill… I’ll gladly take running outdoors even in -20C weather over the dreadmill. Great post Lisa!

  8. Lisa Johnson November 17, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Harold and John, thanks for the comments, glad you like outdoor running! L–

  9. Lisa Johnson November 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Thanks Janice glad you liked it :-) You are one runner who always inspires me. L–

  10. James Fell November 20, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Thanks for the plug, Lisa!

    I just got back from 8 days in Disney World and there is NO WHERE safe to run in the hotel/park section. No sidewalks and no paths to speak of. The concierge gave me a running map that was 1 mile of running around their parking lot. Yay.

    They did have a great gym with a good amount of weights and lots of treadmills, but I braved the highways twice to run along the shoulder and suck down smog. After a day at Universal I ran back the 11 miles to the hotel along a major (and very busy) highway a that thankfully had an 8-foot wide shoulder and people in their cars looked at me like I was nuts.

    Now I’m home where the temperature is about -2F instead of Orlando’s 85 and I’ve got snow-caked paths through a large park not far from my door to run through, and I’m very happy.


  11. Lisa Johnson November 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    James that does sound dangerous! eesh … glad you’re back Canada side with your snowy trails … snow?! I’m not ready for that down here in Boston.

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