• Participants of the study walked for 15 minutes indoors and outdoors
  • Cognition measures improved after exercise, but only when it was outdoors
  • There are various noted benefits of taking exercise outside

Should you exercise inside or outside? Outdoor workouts may be better for the brain, according to a study.

For their study, published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers sought to find out what the interaction is between exercise and environment on cognition. In other words, they looked at how the exercise environment interacts with the exercise itself to affect cognitive performance.

"It is well known that exercise generally enhances cognitive function. However, the environment in which exercise is performed may be just as important as the exercise itself," they wrote. "A growing body of research highlights nature's positive impacts on improving cognition and mental health."

To shed further light on the matter, they conducted an experiment with 30 participants who took 15-minute walks in two environments: inside and outside. Participants' cognitive performance was measured before and after the walks using mobile electroencephalography (mEEG). The mEEG data were recorded before and after the walks while the participants were performing a "visual oddball task."

The researchers found that the measures of cognition improved after the participants exercised. However, it was only "when the exercise took place outdoors."

"(W)e demonstrate that a brief walk outside results in a greater increase in cognitive function than a short walk inside," the researchers wrote.

They did note some limitations to the study such as the lack of an objective measurement of the exercise intensity. As such, they recommend that future studies incorporate the use of heart rate monitoring.

Furthermore, contrary to previous studies, which showed that 20 minutes of exercise would be necessary to impact cognitive performance, they based the 15-minute duration on pilot testing of how long it would take for a student to walk a 2-kilometer track at low or moderate intensity.

Still, the findings highlight the environment where one performs an exercise as a factor that some people may not even be considering.

"Given the continued growth in urbanization and a move to an indoor lifestyle, our results highlight the importance of spending time in nature, especially when exercising," the researchers wrote. "Indeed, in a world where many people 'hit the gym' before or after work or on their lunch break, our results suggest that these people would be better served by simply 'getting outside.'"

Sure enough, there are many reasons for people to consider taking their exercise outside. For instance, running outside may give both the body and the mind more challenges due to the obstacles and changing environment compared to, say, running on a flat treadmill surface. It's also a good way to get some fresh air and vitamin D from sunlight.

For many, exercising outside may also be more enjoyable, feeling rather like play than a chore they need to do. There's also no need to pay a membership fee to go for a walk outside, and doing it with friends can make it even more enjoyable.

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Representation. StockSnap/Pixabay