Exercising in nature offers unique cognitive and psychological benefits that go beyond the physical gains of traditional workouts. Recent studies reveal that outdoor activities can significantly enhance brain function and mental health. This article explores these findings in depth, providing fitness professionals with evidence-based insights on how to incorporate outdoor exercise into their training programmes. Learn how leveraging natural environments can boost your clients’ attention, memory, and overall wellbeing, making workouts more effective and enjoyable.

Overview of Studies

Study 1: “Exercising Outside Is Potentially Better for the Brain” by Boere et al. (2023)

This study explores the interaction between exercise environment and cognitive function, specifically focusing on brief walks. The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure cognitive performance before and after 15-minute indoor and outdoor walks among 30 participants. The cognitive task used was the oddball task, which measures attention and working memory. The main findings indicated that outdoor exercise led to a significant increase in the amplitude of the P300 event-related potential (ERP) component, associated with improved attention and working memory. In contrast, indoor exercise did not show such improvements.

Study 2: “Psychological Benefits of Outdoor Physical Activity in Natural Versus Urban Environments” by Wicks et al. (2022)

This systematic review and meta-analysis compared the psychological effects of physical activity in natural versus urban environments. It included 24 experimental studies with a total of 1,800 participants. The review found that physical activity in natural environments significantly improved psychological outcomes, such as reduced anxiety, anger, and fatigue, and increased positive affect and vigour, compared to urban environments. The meta-analysis revealed moderate to large effect sizes favouring natural environments for various psychological outcomes.

Detailed Analysis of Results

Study 1: Cognitive Enhancements from Outdoor Exercise

Boere et al. (2023) demonstrated that a brief, 15-minute walk in a natural environment can significantly enhance cognitive function, as evidenced by increased P300 amplitude and reduced reaction times in cognitive tasks. The P300 component is crucial for attention and working memory, indicating that natural environments may help restore cognitive resources depleted by mental fatigue. The study’s results suggest that the outdoor environment plays a substantial role in cognitive enhancement, potentially due to the restorative effects of nature, which align with the Attention Restoration Theory (ART).

Key statistical results included:

  • A significant interaction between walking location and time for reaction time (p = 0.05), showing decreased reaction times only for outdoor walks.
  • A significant interaction for P300 amplitude (p = 0.025), with increased amplitudes observed only after outdoor walks.

These findings suggest that even short bouts of exercise in natural settings can provide cognitive benefits that are not achieved by similar exercise in indoor settings.

Study 2: Psychological Benefits of Natural Environments

Wicks et al. (2022) provided a comprehensive comparison of the psychological benefits of physical activity in natural versus urban settings. The review included a variety of physical activities, predominantly walking, and measured outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and mood states. The narrative synthesis and meta-analysis showed that natural environments significantly enhance psychological wellbeing compared to urban environments.

Key findings included:

  • Large effect sizes for reduced anxiety and fatigue and increased positive affect and vigour in natural environments.
  • Moderate effect sizes for reduced depression and anger/hostility.
  • Narrative synthesis indicating that natural environments promote greater feelings of energy, positive engagement, and affect.

These results underscore the importance of the environmental context in maximising the psychological benefits of physical activity. Natural settings appear to provide a more significant reduction in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions compared to urban settings.

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Practical Recommendations for Personal Trainers

Based on these findings, personal trainers can enhance their clients’ cognitive and psychological wellbeing by incorporating outdoor exercise into their programming. Here are practical recommendations:

  1. Leverage Natural Environments: Whenever possible, choose natural settings for workouts, such as parks, trails, or forests. These environments can provide restorative benefits that enhance cognitive function and improve mood.
  2. Short and Frequent Sessions: Even brief sessions, such as 15-minute walks, can significantly impact cognitive and psychological health. Incorporate these short, frequent outdoor sessions into clients’ routines.
  3. Variety of Activities: While walking is effective, varying activities (e.g., jogging, cycling, yoga) in natural settings can maintain interest and provide diverse benefits.
  4. Mindful Engagement: Encourage clients to engage mindfully with their surroundings during outdoor activities, enhancing the restorative effects of nature.
  5. Group Activities: Organise group sessions in natural environments to combine social interaction with the benefits of green exercise.

Outdoor Training Programme

Here is a sample outdoor workout programme you can use with your clients:

Week 1-2: Introduction to Outdoor Exercise

Day 1: Walk and Stretch

  • Warm-up: 5-minute brisk walk
  • Main activity: 15-minute walk in a park
  • Cool-down: 5-minute stretching routine focusing on major muscle groups

Day 2: Nature Yoga

  • Warm-up: 5-minute gentle walk
  • Main activity: 30-minute yoga session in a quiet, natural setting
  • Cool-down: 5-minute meditation focusing on breathing and nature sounds

Day 3: Light Jog

  • Warm-up: 5-minute dynamic stretching
  • Main activity: 10-minute light jog on a trail
  • Cool-down: 5-minute walk and stretch

Week 3-4: Building Intensity

Day 1: Interval Training

  • Warm-up: 5-minute brisk walk
  • Main activity: 20-minute interval training (1-minute sprint, 2-minute walk, repeat)
  • Cool-down: 5-minute stretching

Day 2: Strength and Mobility

  • Warm-up: 5-minute walk
  • Main activity: 30-minute bodyweight circuit (e.g., squats, lunges, push-ups) in a park
  • Cool-down: 5-minute yoga stretches

Day 3: Long Walk

  • Warm-up: 5-minute walk
  • Main activity: 30-minute walk in a diverse natural environment (e.g., trails with varied terrain)
  • Cool-down: 5-minute stretch

The evidence from Boere et al. (2023) and Wicks et al. (2022) highlights the significant cognitive and psychological benefits of exercising in natural environments. Personal trainers can enhance their clients’ wellbeing by incorporating outdoor activities into their training programmes. By leveraging the restorative effects of nature, trainers can help clients achieve better cognitive function and improved mood, leading to overall enhanced health and fitness.


  1. Boere, K., Lloyd, K., Binsted, G., & Krigolson, O. E. (2023). Exercising outside is potentially better for the brain. Scientific Reports. Click here to review the full research article.
  2. Wicks, C., Barton, J., Orbell, S., & Andrews, L. (2022). Psychological benefits of outdoor physical activity in natural versus urban environments: A systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies. Applied Psychology: Health and WellBeing. Click here to review the full research article.

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