How outdoor exercising can benefit your health, but overdoing it might cause harm


When it comes to participating in outdoor exercise, 142 million Americans have taken part in a least one activity every year, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s latest report.

This means that around half the country’s population has fit in regular outdoor exercise into their daily lives.

“Exercise in general has a tremendous amount of benefits, whether it is indoor or outdoors. Exercise helps with blood pressure and preventing heart disease, and it helps build strength within the muscles which helps with prevention of arthritis,” said Dr. Scott Curtis, a sports medicine physician at the Princeton Spine and Joint Center in Princeton. “There are just tremendous benefits of regular exercise.”

He said he has seen the benefits and sometimes issues with outdoor exercise.

Curtis specializes in non-operative care of sports related injuries and general musculoskeletal pain.

In his two years of practicing in Princeton, he said there are a lot of additional benefits with outdoor exercise.

“There was a small study done a couple years ago, where individuals were randomized into indoor exercise versus an outdoor exercise. The participants of the outdoor exercise had greater adherence and had an overall better outlook on their exercise program compared to the indoor program,” Curtis reported. “The study showed that people have had a better opinion about exercising outside.”

On the other side of the coin are some of the issues developed from this type of activity, which include injuries.

During his time practicing sports medicine, Curtis revealed that he has dealt with a lot of injuries that come with outdoor activity.

“When I deal with injuries, I deal with acute and chronic injuries. Acute is a specific impact injury and chronic is a long lasting and reoccurring one. A lot of that is dictated on what the individuals likes to do or what sport they play,” he said.

Curtis said he sees a lot of indoor and outdoor runners.

“I see a lot of them. Sometimes they will get overuse injuries because of their increase in mileage. Sometimes as well, runners who are transitioning from running indoors to trails or asphalt develop injuries as a result to the change in running ground,” he said.

In the Princeton area, Curtis reported that he treats not only runners but cyclists in his office as patients.

With outdoor exercise, he said that it is important for individuals to know their body and pain.

“This is crucial. I think the old adage of no pain, no gain is something we really need to get out of people’s minds. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong,” Curtis said. “This no different with for example outdoor runners. When someone starts to develop knee pain or shin pain it is your body’s way of saying something is wrong and it should be addressed.”

For Curtis, the good amount of patients he sees have developed overuse injuries when it comes to their activity.

“This is different to the acute injury because acute injuries are more traumatic, overuse injuries are chronic injuries. The overuse injuries limit an individual’s ability to enjoy outdoor exercise,” he said.

However, all is not lost for people who have developed injuries, Curtis explained that his first steps to treatment are to figure out the reasons as to why the pain and injury is there in the first place.

“Is it because the individual is trying a new activity that they are not sure they know how to do, is it equipment that is not fitting appropriately, and are they increasing mileage too quickly say with runners for example,” he said. “There are a lot of risk factors as to why people develop injury and so it is my job to figure out the underlying issue. It allows us to figure out how we can ease the pain.”

With runners he has seen some wear flimsy shoes or minimalist shoes that translates a lot of force and pain to different areas such as the knees and lower back, so he figures out what shoes they wear, how old they are, and whether they have flat feet or high arches, the pain he said is easily correctable.

“There are other risk factors we can’t really do anything about. I see a lot of patients with knee arthritis and there is a genetic component to knee arthritis, so we go through a family history,” Curtis said. “Activity modification, counseling, and physical therapy are my first line treatments for injuries. After that if pain has not changed we will get further diagnostic studies and decided on whether to do medication and injections and other things such as that.”

Overall, outdoor exercising can benefit people’s health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and foster growth and development.

However, overdoing those exercises can result in pain and injuries that have people in the doctor offices of Curtis and others who specialize in sports medicine.