Walking is the one activity that all humans do largely in an identical way – one foot in front of the other, arms gently swinging at our sides. But where and how we prefer to walk can differ greatly, from trekking undulating terrain to trudging down basement stairs to climb on a machine.

So what’s better for active adults looking to maintain their health? To answer the question, it’s important to take into account not just the physical aspects of each environment, but the mind and the “soul” components of well-rounded exercise.

Plus, where you live matters – urban or rural – impacts your options. The best active lifestyle communities, for example, provide access to awesome trails right on the doorstep, where living in a city does not.

Here’s how trails vs treadmills compare:

Calorie Burn

Walking outside introduces the body to obstacles that make you work harder, like wind resistance, hills and the fact you’re pushing to move forward. When your body expends more energy, you burn more calories. A motorized treadmill maintains momentum with less effort on your part. Oh, don’t hang on the handrails! It reduces calorie burn and negatively affects your posture.

Muscle Power

If your mind does not know what’s coming next, neither do your muscles. Trail walking introduces terrain variations that help facilitate balance and core strength, both vital to your overall health as you age. Walking up hills works your glutes and quads. Heading downhill lengthens and conditions muscles. Generally speaking, walking on a treadmill offers no incline.

Mind Matters

Ever heard the term “proprioception”? Neither had we. Essentially exercising outside creates neural-muscular response to outdoor stimuli, such as a rocky or uneven terrain. This stimuli keep the brain engaged in the workout. Machines do not engage the brain’s sensory receptors as completely.

Mood Booster

Multiple studies have concluded that walking in nature means less stress, less anxiety, and better working memory than walking in an urban area. Time away from devices, screens and stresses gives your mind a chance to take a break and connect with people that share your lifestyle.