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Physical healt benefits

Physical health benefits of running in the forest

It doesn’t matter where or how you run, your body will reap the same benefits, right? Wrong! Running outdoors will make your body work harder and help you to get in better shape more quickly compared to the monotamy of treadmill running.

Mixed terrain

Uneven ground surfaces like flat-packed paths and roads make your body work harder as it has to respond to the unknown. This means you have to be more agile and balanced – leaping over that big puddle or dodging that log!

Varying inclines

Hills! We all know there’s no better feeling than making it to the top (because it means you can come back down!). The forest has many natural inclines, some so slight that you won’t even notice. Studies have found that people flex their ankles more when running outside, especially when running down hills, something that’s difficult to replicate on a treadmill. This works the muscles in a different way and is great for increasing your endurance.

Incline exercise:

When you reach a hill, find a fallen leaf or twig and place it on the floor as a marker at a chosen point somewhere on the incline. Starting at the bottom of the hill, see how many times you can sprint up to your marker and back down again.

Wind resistance

Again, you may not even notice it (unless you’re out running in a gale – which we don’t recommend!) but when running outdoors, you’re often battling against some degree of wind drag, which results in much greater energy demands and more calories burnt.

Pacing

It’s easy to set your workout up on a treadmill and zone out. However, this teaches you nothing about finding and maintaining your pace – which is very important for runners working towards a distance goal. In the forest you can stop, start and set your own intervals by using the trees as markers. You’re in complete control and can discover what works best for you.

Pacing exercise:

Try some interval training. Using the trees as markers, run for 20 trees, then walk for 10 trees. Pick up the pace for higher intensity training. Sprint for 10 trees and walk for 20 trees to get that heart rate pumping.

Top technique tip

Being aware of how your body is responding to exercise is really important. If you start to feel any pain or discomfort, stop training immediately and book an appointment with a physiotherapist. For mild pain and discomfort (and complete relaxation!) try a sports massage.

Last updated: 10th October 2017

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.