Which is better; running outside or on a treadmill?

For those of us trying to stay fit through exercising, running is a popular choice by a landslide. It is an activity that is accepted and embraced by both old and young to keep their blood “warm” and running. However, the adage old debate remains; running on a treadmill vs running outdoors. Is it better to toil away in the gym (or in your basement) while looking at your reflection or is running outside among nature and its forces a better prospect? Which type of the two is more efficient in cutting calories and which one is more hazardous?

Each has its pros and cons and an in-depth analysis of the various factors at play is required to separate them.

Calories Expended

Running is all about losing that extra calorie and staying fit and hence, you will want to choose the option which gets you fit quicker. Enthusiasts of outside running are adamant that outside running demands more energy, primarily due to the wind resistance which is missing in the gym. Treadmill fans are not convinced about that, and research is actually on their side. A study conducted by Exeter University concluded that the effort of running outside could be matched on a treadmill by setting it to a 1% gradient. Sorry outside runners.

Now that it is established that the energy demanded is roughly equal in both instances, what other factors can separate running on a treadmill vs running outdoors?

Safety Factor

Most of you have already concluded who wins this category. Well, think again! Granted, toiling away on the treadmill means you are safe from dogs or wild animals or falling branches and the harsh terrain or even petty muggers on dark, isolated corners. But the unvarying repetition in a treadmill leaves you susceptible to ligament and joint injury. The act of stepping on the same spot over and over is unhealthy according to researchers. By comparison, every step you take while whipping it outside on an uneven terrain is different from the last; it is not as certain. This may sound like a bad thing, but it is not since it activates a diverse group of muscles in addition to enhancing the sense of balance.

The Exercising Environment

Confined by the gym walls or surrounded by nature? The sweet smell of the quiet nature or the smell of your gym colleagues? I am not being biased here but this category undoubtedly goes to outside running, and academic research is there to back me up. Exeter University discovered that those who ran outside experience a feeling of satisfaction and revitalization as well as reduced levels of stress and depression. These positive effects, they said, are even more pronounced if the running environment is green. You can’t argue with research.

The Cost

Some outside running enthusiasts actually love the treadmill but just hate the associated cost. Try and calculate the dollars you have spent on the gym in the last three years, and you will quit. A person with a tight budget but still eager to stay fit will chose to save the gym bucks and experience nature. Woe on to you if you decide to but your own treadmill; apart from the initial purchasing cost, the electricity cost will make running outside feel like an obvious choice. For those with the money to spend, get that treadmill and start running.


Studies have shown that people who run on treadmills tend to overestimate their running speeds; that they may not be going as fast as they think. If you are trying to match the speed you were running at while outside, the chances are that you are going slower on the treadmill. The best explanation I have is that while running outside, there are visual cues that tend to show you your speed really; like how fast the trees are approaching. These cues are missing from the gym.


A treadmill comes equipped with adjustments that can make your workout harder or easier (some). Nature, on the other end, does not grant the luxury of adjusting it, unless you find a terrain with the desired slope (upward or downward). Therefore, if you like adjusting your running angles and trying different stuff, the treadmill is made for you
VerdictI prefer running outside. The wind on my face is just therapeutic, and I like getting my vitamin D. I can also take my dog for a jog (try that on a treadmill). The benefits of outside running completely outweigh those of a treadmill; more exertion due to higher speed, less cost, safety, and varying muscle activation. Whichever one you choose, the difference in the level of fitness is negligible.



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