Here's the Best Place to Take Your Runs

As a Houston podiatrist, I often get asked this question: should I run outdoors or on the treadmill? Of course, this answer should be nuanced. If you're here in H-town, and the heat and humiity index is through the roof at noon, which is the only time you can run, you may need to stay indoors (although here are some ways to make hot runs a little safer, if you're brave enough.)

And the same goes for those of you in the North or East, who may face dangerously low or icy conditions at various points throughout the fall and winter. Again, it's best to use your personal judgment when inclement weather is involved. I always advocate safety before outdoor running, as should any podiatrist worth their medical degree. 

Still, when the weather is nice and the conditions are conducive, where would I recommend running? Read on to discover my evidence-based recommendation.

Is a Treadmill Workout Better Than an Outdoor Run? 

As I've spent much time pondering this question, I always come back to an amazing breakdown from CNN that I discovered. It pointed me straight towards the proper answer, which was always my gut instinct: outside running is best, by all accounts. Lucky for us Texans, year-round outdoor training is a very real possibility.

Here’s how the two break down in comparison:

Just look at these pictures: where would you rather run???

Calories burned per hour

Outdoors: 970.
Indoors: 661.
Winner: Outdoors.

Average heart rate

Outdoors:163.
Indoors: 129.
Winner: Outdoors.

Risk of injury

You’re more likely to get injured running on a treadmill than outside. On the treadmill you repeat almost exactly the same motion with every strep, upping your risk for overuse injuries like shin splints. Outside, you’re forced to use different muscles as you run over varying terrain and adjust for curbs and incline increases.  The more muscles involved in your run, the less likely it is that any one part will incur damage. Additionally, treadmill injuries accounted for 24,400 emergency room visits in 2014 (and even killed Dave Goldberg, former husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Winner: Outdoors.

Fun factor

Studies show that running outside increases your feelings of well-being and decreases depression, stress and anxiety. Also, outdoor runners are more likely to train with a friend, while treadmill addicts often run alone, making exercise monotonous and less of a lifestyle boost.
Winner: Outdoors.

There you have it: outdoor running pretty much trounces gym jogs in every way possible. Get your sneakers and get outside!

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.