Elliptical vs. Running Outside: A Point-by-Point Comparison

Are you wondering if you should invest in an elliptical to get in shape before the holidays and their endless cornucopia of fattening treats? Maybe you hesitate because you think, “I can always run outside, which costs less.” 

In uncertain economic times, it’s natural to cling to your hard-earned dollars. However, when it comes to your fitness, the cost of a gadget pales beside the price of treating heart disease or diabetes resulting from inactivity and obesity. Let’s take a point-by-point look at the elliptical versus running outside and see which works best for your unique needs. 

Benefits of Running Outside

Other than a quality pair of running shoes, you don’t need any equipment to go for a sprint or jog. Besides the cost factor, you’ll also reap the following four benefits. 

1. Vitamin D

While you can get adequate vitamin D intake from supplements, your body produces what it needs naturally when exposed to sunlight. Unless a skin condition makes light exposure problematic, el sol reigns supreme because you don’t risk accidental overdose. Remember, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, meaning your body doesn’t expel the excess in your urine. 

2. Improved Mood

If you struggle with depression, outdoor workouts may prove superior. While any physical activity produces endorphins, one study of 14 patients with mild to moderate depression revealed that a single outdoor exercise bout improved mood more than sweating it up indoors. 

3. Challenging Terrain 

Even the best programmable treadmill can’t hope to match the varied terrain Mother Nature provides. Rocks and fallen branches require ankle dexterity to navigate. Hills in mountainous ranges may exceed any exercise equipment’s slope ratio. 

4. Interesting Scenery 

Let’s face it — 2020 had many folks staring at the same four walls, all day, every day. Running outside gives you gorgeous natural scenery to explore. 

Benefits of an Elliptical

Running outside is the proverbial bee’s knees, but it can be hard on human ones. Ellipticals are gentler on your joints and offer the following four additional benefits. 

1. Can Go Outside

You might have seen someone riding an elliptical that glides along like a standing bicycle. You can find outdoor elliptical machines that let you reap the benefits of this exercise while taking in the fresh air and health effects. Some models might set you back a grand or more, but if you can afford it, why not? 

2. Minimal Impact

Do you have arthritis? If so, running outside can gripe your knees and hips something awful. Elliptical machines offer zero-impact cardiovascular training that’s kind to your joints. 

3. Watch TV While Riding 

Who said you had to stare at the wall while you ride? You can set up an indoor elliptical machine in your living room and catch up on the news or your latest Netflix must-see episodes while you sweat.  

4. Effortless Vital Sign Tracking 

If you have a heart condition or other medical woes, ellipticals allow you to track your vital signs more effortlessly than running outside. Many machines let you attach a proper heart-rate monitor instead of grasping handles and alert you to clues that you need to slow down. 

Downsides to Running Outside

Are you still torn on which form of exercise is better? While we hate to emphasize the negative, both ellipticals and running outside have drawbacks. If, like The Boss, you were “Born to Run,” here’s what to watch for. 

  • Potential for injury: The same obstacles that challenge your skill and reaction time can trip you. Falling on asphalt or cement doesn’t tickle and can break bones. 
  • Inclement weather: While you could bundle up and run when the wind chill hits negative digits and snow clouds the path, it’s not the most pleasant experience. It could also lead to hypothermia or injury if you slip on black ice. 
  • Animal encounters: It pays to watch Cesar Milan if you’re a runner, even if you don’t have a dog. Still, it’s quite a challenge to remain calm and assertive when a hostile-looking Staffy with no apparent owner blocks your path. In rural areas, coyotes, bears and even mountain lions pose threats. 

Downsides to the Elliptical

Like running outdoors, elliptical machines have their detractors. Here are three that might give you pause: 

  • Can get tedious: Even with entertainment, you can start to feel like a hamster on a wheel after a while. 
  • Expense: You will shell out a pretty penny for a quality elliptical machine, regardless of whether you opt for an indoor or outdoor version. 
  • Maintenance: The bummer about equipment is that it can break. When it does, you have the unenviable chore of finding a repair shop. 

Is an Elliptical or Running Outside Better for You? Only You Can Decide

Both elliptical training and running outside offer benefits and downsides. Only you can ultimately decide which workout is best for your unique needs.