Ditch the Treadmill, San Diego: Why you should exercise outside

Man running the San Diego Convention Center stairs

Man running the San Diego Convention Center stairs

San Diego, CA is home to beautiful beaches, cliffs, trails, and mountains. Average temperatures are between 57 and 72 degrees and there is typically less than 12 inches of total rainfall in a given year. So why are there so many damn treadmills, elliptical trainers and other indoor cardio machines crammed into gyms around San Diego? Aside from the fact that San Diego has so many wonderful options for outdoor exercise and conditioning, there are some other good reasons you should be ditching cardio equipment in favor of the outdoors.

Sunlight, Vitamin D and More

Getting exposure to direct sunlight allows your body to synthesize vitamin D. While it’s most commonly known to improve calcium absorption, vitamin D also seems to help individuals sustain muscular strength and performance, improve their mood, and is correlated with improved insulin sensitivity. In other words, you’ll be stronger, happier, and leaner. (2,3) According to Harvard Medical School, it only takes 10-15 minutes in direct sunlight for your body to produce a significant amount of Vitamin D. (6) Other studies have shown that in sunnier climates similar to San Diego’s, that time may be less than 10 minutes. (4)

Sunlight also plays a powerful role in regulating our body’s internal rythms. Exposure to sunlight improves your body’s nighttime production of melatonin, which can improve your sleep quality and recovery as well as act as a powerful antioxidant in the body. (5) Who doesn’t sleep well after a day at the beach?

Jumping at the BEach in San Diego. Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vintagedesignsmith/4420532804/

Jumping at the BEach in San Diego. Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vintagedesignsmith/4420532804/

There’s more to the benefits of getting outdoors than just sunlight though. There are numerous studies demonstrating the positive effects of a person’s exposure to green spaces and nature. Regularly spending time around green spaces, outdoors, plants, and water has been shown to improve focus, cognitive abilities, and mood. (1)

Incorporating Outdoor Activities into a Fitness Program

As a personal trainer,  I try to take advantage of outdoor spaces surrounding the Aztec Recreation Center or with group events like ultimate frisbee days whenever possible. There are nearly limitless ways to take your workouts outside with varied intensities. For example you could incorporate:

Strongman Carries Sled drags and pushes Kettlebell work Lifting Rocks Jumping Rope Sprints Hiking Rock Climbing Walking Swimming Surfing Pick up games Yoga Calisthenics

I could go on, but I would just like to highlight that incorporating these types activities are all effective ways to continue improving your fitness and conditioning while getting outside from time to time. Not only are these forms of exercise just as effecting if not more so than indoor cardio, I would venture to guess that you would find them far more enjoyable than an hour on an elliptical trainer.

Since, San Diego offers so much to enjoy and explore there’s very little reason to spend your time inside running in place on a treadmill and plenty of reasons to take your workout outside. Find a playground, a trail, get some friends together and play tag. Get outside and put your body and the time you’ve invested in the gym to good use.


1.) Barton J. & Pretty J. (2010) What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 3947-3955.

2.) Cannell et al. (2009) Athletic Performance and Vitamin D. Medicine and Science in & Exercise, 41(5), 1102-1110.

3.) Kamilia et al. (2008) Vitamin D, glucose, insulin, and insulin sensitivity. Nutrition, 24(3), 279-285.

4.) Terushkin et al. (2010) Estimated equivalency of vitamin D production from natural sun exposure versus oral vitamin D supplementation across seasons at two US latitudes. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 62(6), 929.

5.) Wurtman, Richard J. The Effects of Light on the Human Body. http://web.mit.edu/dick/www/pdf/286.pdf

6.) (2008, September) Time for more Vitamin D. Harvard Women's Health Watch. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/time-for-more-vitamin-d.htm