If you’re one of the many Americans trying to cut back on expenses, some news from a U.K. study might make you feel better about quitting the gym: exercising outside may be more beneficial for you than exercising inside.

A systematic review carried out by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry analyzed existing studies and concluded there are not only physical benefits, but also mental benefits from working out in nature.

The research team, supported by the NIHR Peninsula Collaboration in Leadership for Applied Health Research and Care (PenCLAHRC) in collaboration with the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), analyzed data from a number of sources including 11 randomized and non-randomized control trials incorporating information from 833 adults.

Eligible trials were those that compared the effects of outdoor exercise initiatives with those conducted indoors and which reported at least one physical or mental well-being outcome in adults or children.

The study found, compared to exercising inside, most trials showed an increase in feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, along with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression when people exercised outside.

Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.

Granted, exercising in the park instead of the gym doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose more weight. None of the identified studies measured the effects of physical activity on physical well-being, or the effect of natural environments on sticking to exercise. (Read consumer complaints about fitness clubs).

Promising effects 

Still, the findings of this study has identified some promising effects on self-reported mental well-being immediately following exercise in the natural environment, as opposed to those reported following exercise indoors.

Dr. Jo Thompson-Coon, PenCLAHRC Research Fellow, said the hypothesis that there are added benefits from exercising in nature opposed to inside has generated considerable interest.

“By using the data currently available to us we have added strength to the link between mental and physical well-being and outdoor exercise, but further research and longer, tailor-made and focused trials are needed to better understand this link," said Thompson-Coon.

Specifically, large, well-designed longer-term trials in populations who might benefit most from the potential advantages of outdoor exercise are needed to fully analyze the effects of outdoor exercise on mental and physical well-being.

Studies are also required that measure the influence of such effects on the sustainability of physical activity.

The senior author of the study, Professor Michael Depledge, Chair of Environment and Human Health at the ECEHH, said since about 75 percent of Europeans live in urban environments, there should be more focus on reconnecting them with nature.

While Americans may not necessarily have that problem, the combination of unemployment or slashed hours may force many to find free ways to exercise.

“Our research, which brings together data from a wide variety of sources, adds significant weight to the case for spending more time in the natural environment as members of the public and their clinicians fight to counteract the negative outcomes of modern living, such as obesity and depression,” said Depledge.

The study findings were published Friday in Environmental Science and Technology.