Exercise is good for us not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Studies have shown that exercising can help reduce stress, treat anxiety and lessen depression. (1)
Mood isn’t just influenced by how much we move. Mood is highly influenced by our environment. There’s a clear winner between running on a mind-numbingly-boring treadmill and jogging on a nice peaceful beach. One sounds like a chore and the other sounds like a vacation.
One open gym even went so far as to model their establishment after a popular vacation spot: Disney World. Their research showed that kids tend to work out for longer when they are having fun. (2)
I would argue that this principle doesn’t just apply to kids. It is easier for everyone to work hard when they are having fun. Exercising can become a chore. But exercising doesn’t have to be; it can be a hobby.
Gyms can be great. They are a designated area where you know you will have all the tools to do a complete workout.
But gyms also make exercising sedentary. As is the case with much weight training equipment, treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes they all keep you confined to a specific space.
I’ve heard some of my cyclist friends say it is easier and feels “quicker” to do two or more hours on a bike outside than to ride an hour on a stationary bike. Similarly a treadmill offers less resistance to athletes and thus running outside is a better option. (3)
If you are determined to work out at the gym I’d suggest finding a buddy. If a friend is expecting you to meet them there it tends to make you more accountable.
Another option to consider is getting a personal trainer. In addition to added accountability, personal trainers provide expertise and organization that will help you get the most out of going to the gym. (4)
We tend to be the most comfortable in our homes. So if you are less self conscious lifting weights at home than around the buff and obnoxiously beautiful gym rats then that’s may be the way to go for you.
When we are more confident about doing something — from getting a promotion to getting in a couple squats — we tend to be more motivated to go ahead and do it. (5) Getting it done once leads to getting it done more than once which leads to forming habits and reaching goals.
However, our homes also tend to be the busiest places in our lives. Home is where the cooking and the cleaning and the taking care of kids is. So although our homes are very comfortable they aren’t exactly relaxing. For some people getting in a workout at home is more stressful than going to the gym everyday. Believe me I’ve been one of those people.
If you don’t have a separate room to exercise in. It is easy for the mind to wander and even easier to get distracted and preoccupied doing other things. Psychologists call this phenomenon context dependent memory (6). Since you’re at home you are more likely to be stimulated by all the stuff around the house and remember all the other things that still haven’t been checked off on your to do list.
The Great Outdoors
The funny thing about exercising is that you are supposed to move while you do it. So in theory you can go anywhere while you’re exercising. Just imagine doing lunges all the way to the grocery store!
If you are big on cardio I highly recommend walking, jogging, cycling, etc. outdoors. Not only has it been proven that exercising outdoors is better for your mental well-being than indoors but I am convinced it is better for your social well-being as well. (7)
Get fit together. Gather some of your friends. Researchers have found that exercising outdoors is especially effective for women. (8) And go jog around the park. You might as well do something physically productive while you catch up.
The best place to exercise is the wherever you find the most relaxing and least distracting. Whether that is in a gym, in a park or at home, go wherever you need to in order to be consistent with your exercise. You owe it to yourself to be happy and comfortable while you train. Exercising doesn’t have to be just about strengthening your body, by working out in the proper environment you can also strengthen your mind.