Why spend time outdoors? Plus 5 tips to fit it into your daily life.
by Madeline Stewart
Why the outdoors? Of our five Elements for optimal human health, the Outdoors and Community might be the two that made you stop and think… Why? Nutrition, Movement, and Personal Care are getting a lot of hype on social media and in the news. While we agree that they are vital components to health, through research and our own experience and beliefs, community and exposure to the outdoors are just as vital.
Time outdoors does not mean that you must strap on a backpack and set off alone into the woods or pick up rock climbing or even like hiking. All of these activities are great ways to get movement outside but, when we say the “Outdoors,” we really just mean getting your body outdoors (movement would be a bonus). So what are some of the benefits of spending time in green spaces or in the woods?
Spending time outside has been shown to:
reduce stress levels (Thompson et al., 2012)
reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety (Beyer et al., 2014)
improve cognition, especially in children and those with depression (Taylor and Kuo, 2009; Berman et al., 2012)
boost the immune system (Li, 2010)
lower blood pressure (Mao, 2012)
improve mood (Akers et al., 2012)
accelerate recovery from surgery or illness (Ulrich, 1984)
increase energy level (Townsend, 2008)
improve sleep (Morita et al., 2011)
This list is by no means all of the benefits of spending time outside, but it is a great representation of why outdoor exposure is so important. With our busy lives it can be challenging to find time for another healthy thing, so here is a quick list of tips to fit some nature time into your life:
EAT YOUR MEALS OUTSIDE: One of my favorite ways to breathe in some fresh air, and spend time looking at green and not a screen is to eat breakfast and drink my morning coffee outside.
PRIORITIZE OUTDOORS TIME ON YOUR DAYS OFF: When your workweek is done, make some time on your days off to spend in a local park or in the woods. If you are feeling exhausted, you don’t have to go for a walk or a long hike; find a bench, put down your phone, and just breathe deep and enjoy the view.
PLAN AND COMPLETE A PROJECT IN YOUR YARD: Yard work is a great way to spend time outside, and it’s a win win... better health and a better yard.
PLAN OUTDOOR TIME INTO YOUR ERRANDS: Park farther from the entrance and enjoy the fresh air as you walk to the building You could also walk from your house to your destination instead of driving.
BONUS: GET A DOG. Seriously! Having a furry little companion makes life AMAZING in many ways, and also encourages you to get outside every day with them!
Sometimes weather can get in the way of your desire to be outside... Don't let the rain, heat, or snow stop you. (You can read Kimberly's blog for tips to deal with the potential discomforts of weather and the outdoors). When all else fails, open up the windows in your house take some deep, soothing breaths, and spend some time simply looking outside at the nearest bit of green.
Akers, A., Barton, J., Cossey, R., Gainsford, P., Griffin, M., Mikleright, D. (2012). Visual Color Perception in Green Exercise: Positive Effects on Mood and Perceived Exertion.Environmental Science and Technology. 46(16):8661-8666
Beyer K. M. M., Kaltenbach A., Szabo A., Bogar S., Nieto F. J., Malecki K. M. (2014). Exposure to neighbourhood green space and mental health: Evidence from the survey of the health of Wisconsin. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 11, 3453–3472. 10.3390/ijerph110303453
Berman M. G., Kross E., Krpan K. M., Askren M. K., Burson A., Deldin P. J., et al. . (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. J. Affect. Disord. 140, 300–305. 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html#Reference
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17
Mao G.X., Cao, Y.B., Lan, X.G., He, Z.H., Chen, Z.M., Wang, Y.Z., Hu, X.L., Lv, Y.D., Wang, G.F., Yan, J. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. Journal of Cardiology. 60:495-502
Morita, E., Imai, M., Okawa, M., Miyaura, T., & Miyazaki, S. (2011). A before and after comparison of the effects of forest walking on the sleep of a community-based sample of people with sleep complaints. BioPsychoSocial medicine, 5, 13. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-5-13
Taylor A. F., Kuo F. E. (2009). Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. J. Atten. Disord. 12, 402–409. 10.1177/108705470832300
Thompson C. W., Roe J., Aspinall P., Mitchell R., Clow A., Miller D. (2012). More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape Urban Plann. 105, 221–229. 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.12.015
Townsend, M. (2008). Healthy parks, healthy people: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context. A review of relevant literature. Deakin University.Burwood, Melbourne, Australia.
Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 224:420-422.