Running is an excellent workout in and of itself. The long list of benefits includes strengthening the muscles and bones, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and combating anxiety and depression.
Plus, of course, running also works just about every muscle in the body and gives you an intense calorie burn. And as it turns out, running in nature is even better for you.
My Running Journey
I’ve always been active. Whether it’s a gym workout, hiking, playing sports, taking a yoga class, swimming, or even just a walk outside — I’m always doing something.
One thing I’ve always struggled with, though, is running inside, perhaps because I grew up playing soccer. It might sound dramatic (okay, okay. It does sound dramatic.), but running on a treadmill is a form of personal torture. Time slows to a crawl and I look at my watch or the machine timer every few seconds. Something about indoor running just doesn’t work for me.
It’s not that I hate running. I hate running inside. So a few years ago, I went running outdoors. The fresh air works wonders, and I find that I’m not constantly checking my watch. This mindset shift helps me get so much more out of running — I run farther and more frequently because I genuinely enjoy it. All because of a literal change of scenery!
Transformative Nature Runs
I definitely don’t want to take anything away from running inside. Simply moving in any way, shape, or form is important and has tons of health benefits. For me, though, I’ve seen a total transformation — particularly in my mental health — from simply shifting to running outside. Below are some of the changes I’ve seen in my life that have come from running in nature.
The first few times I ran outside, I felt like I was sharper mentally. I used to experience that stereotypical “afternoon slump” every day between 3-4 pm and all of a sudden, it was gone. I also noticed that I was generally less distracted throughout the day, which allowed me to work more efficiently. The more I ran, the more I noticed this mental clarity — not just the day of the run, but for a couple of days afterward, too.
It turns out this wasn’t just a feeling. Studies like this one from the University of Michigan prove that simply being outside improves memory and attention span. And since we know exercising itself improves overall cognitive function, doing it outside delivers a serious one-two punch.
I often say that nature is my church, my religion. Running outdoors, tapping into that sharper focus, allows me to connect more deeply with my beliefs. As my feet hit the ground over and over again, the “noise” of daily life seems to fade further and further away.
This is truly one of the only times when I’m not juggling multiple things at once, so my focus becomes laser-sharp. The quieter that noise gets, the louder I can hear my spiritual thoughts and questions, and the more clearly I can reflect.
Even the most strenuous gym workout simply doesn’t compare to running outside. There’s uneven pavement, literal bumps in the road, wind, unpredictable weather, and a slightly higher risk of getting injured.
Bonus: This all means you also get a much better workout, burning more calories and engaging more muscles. Then there’s the fact that no two runs are ever the same; you see different scenery and have different experiences even running the same route continuously.
You have to sort of overcome all of those things to simply go for a run outdoors, which is a subtle yet powerful mindset shift. And because of that, you naturally learn to push yourself — to go a little farther, ignore that cramp, and resist the urge to look at your watch.
This is the very definition of resilience, and running regularly helps me lean into it more and more. Even outside of running, in my job and personal life, I find that I’m a little more patient, I have a bit more willpower, and I’m generally just more willing (and able!) to “push on.”
Maybe it’s simply the rush of feel-good endorphins and dopamine from exercising, but I swear running outside cures any trace of negativity. I feel so refreshed, happy, and alive after my runs. I feel ready to take on the world. Running also seems to cure anything that’s weighing on me, giving me a fresh perspective and helping me work through it or let it go.
Just Keep Running
There’s a lot going on in the world today, and self-care is more important than ever. Beyond just feeling happy, it’s crucial to find something that centers you and that you take solace in.
For me, it’s running in nature. I highly encourage everyone to try it, even if you’ve never done it or think it may not be for you. Remember, not so long ago I myself wasn’t the biggest fan of running (or I thought I wasn’t, anyway)!
Start small, literally putting one foot in front of the other. In fact, you don’t even necessarily have to run — walk, if you’d rather! Just get out there, be active outdoors, and see how you grow on a personal level.