Research shows being outside has big benefits.
If there’s one thing you do for your health today, spend some time outside. “There are many physical and mental benefits to spending time in nature, including improved cardiovascular health, increased life expectancy, enhanced cognitive function, and stress reduction,” says Lincoln Larson, PhD, associate professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University.
Indeed, research over the last decade underpins the distinct benefits of green spaces (or blue ones, if you like water). According to a recent literature review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, being among the birds and the trees or listening to the waves crash on the shore:
- Improves blood pressure
- Increases brain activity
- Lessens anxiety
- Bolsters immunity
- Helps people recover faster from surgery
One reason? We evolved with nature — we were built to be in it, so our bodies and minds feel better in natural environments. Contrast that with our modern lifestyles, which tend to push us to spend more and more time in front of a screen.
That’s the big picture. Here are some specifics on how being in nature benefits your body and brain:
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It Promotes an Active Life
Spending time outside supports greater levels of physical activity compared to staying cooped up indoors, according to an analysis in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. That, in turn, can help decrease your risk of developing chronic disease, the researchers report.
Whether you prefer to walk, hike, bike on a trail, or take a dip in the lake, the great outdoors gives you countless opportunities for healthy activity.
Recommended reading: 9 New Fitness Activities You Can Totally Do This Summer
It May Boost the Benefits of Exercise
Any time you can sneak in physical activity — whether that’s taking an extra set of stairs or racking up more steps by walking around your home — it’s a win. But if you tend to do your workouts only at the gym, hear this: “There’s evidence that exercise done outside has larger benefits than exercise done indoors,” says ecologist Joshua Lawler, PhD, professor and Director of the Nature and Health Program at the University of Washington.
One study found that a 15-minute walk outside revved up measures of cognitive function, such as attention and working memory, better than the same walk indoors, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports.
“Spending time in nature reduces cognitive load, which is stress on the brain. Instead of hard concentration used with screens, nature takes us into soft fascination, where we can passively appreciate the world around us,” Larson explains.
It Combats Loneliness
“Loneliness and isolation is a public health concern,” says Kathleen Wolf, PhD, a retired research social scientist with the University of Washington. The harms of isolation were never more apparent than during the pandemic, and it continues to be a problem today.
Being in nature is one antidote. People who spent more time outdoors had higher levels of emotional wellbeing compared to adults who stayed inside, likely because being outside provides time to nurture social relationships and connect to the outside world, according to research in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Activities like group walking programs can bring you together with others while getting you outside, says Wolf.
It Improves Your Mood
When you’re sad and need a lift, or angry and need to cool off, try taking five outside. Research suggests that a walk in nature may help decrease symptoms of depression, according to a 2022 study from researchers in Spain.
“Being in nature offers incredible benefits for mental health,” says Wolf. Nature can help cut through a tendency to ruminate, or get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts. “Rumination is diminished because you may think more positively when you’re in a nature setting where you feel secure and safe,” she explains.
Who can think about anything else when the sun is shining and the birds are singing?
Recommended reading: 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening
See our sources:
Health benefits of nature: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Increased physical activity: Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Outdoors and emotional wellbeing: Journal of Happiness Studies
Outdoor versus indoor walking: Scientific Reports
Depression: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
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