Let’s face it, our days are filled with stress. We spend our workday on the phone and in meetings. We answer thousands of questions via text and email. We also spend quite a bit of time in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer a mobile device or a television. Spending time in nature offers us many health benefits as well as the chance to relax, unwind and enjoy the scenery.
Health benefits of spending time outdoors
Activities like hiking in the woods or kayaking across a lake afford us the opportunity to take a break from the day-to-day monotony and notice our surroundings. This can help us to focus and to feel at ease. Studies have shown that exposure to forests and trees leads to decreased levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Some doctors are even prescribing walking outdoors as part of a treatment plan to manage stress and anxiety.
Spending even a few minutes outside can give us a quick mental boost. Try getting away from your desk and taking a fifteen minute walk at lunchtime. You might be surprised to see how much more focused and refreshed you feel. Even on gray and rainy days, a little fresh air will help to clear your head and give you a better perspective.
When we get outside, we naturally tend to move our bodies more. Whether we are gardening, playing with the dog or mowing the yard, we are naturally getting some of our required daily physical activity. We should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Spending time outdoors can make physical activity more enjoyable and offers a nice change of pace from working out in a gym. Even just going outside for a walk tends to make people exert themselves more than if they were walking on a treadmill or at an indoor track. This is great news for those who want to lose weight. Participating in exhilarating outdoor activities like swimming and hiking can result in a greater calorie burn as we often lose track of time. This means a longer workout time and a quicker path to weight loss.
Get your zzz’s
Having trouble getting to sleep? Spending time outdoors can actually help you sleep better. Being outdoors helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. This is our body’s 24-hour built-in cycle for regulating sleep, hunger and energy levels along with an entire host of other mind and body functions. Natural sunlight, especially in the morning, improves our sleep by keeping our circadian rhythm in sync.
Ecopsychology seeks to develop and understand the emotional connection between individuals and the natural environment with a focus on wellbeing. Studies show that people who spent a minimum of two hours per week in green spaces – local parks or other natural environments – were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing than those who don’t. The study from the European Center for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter also showed that there were no benefits for people who did not meet that threshold.
Exposure to green space can greatly lift our mood and has robust effects on our health. Contact with nature has been shown to increase happiness and improve our wellbeing. It can also give us a sense of meaning and purpose in life. There is even evidence that simple images of nature can be beneficial for improving attention and the ability to solve life’s problems. However, the best benefits physically, mentally and emotionally, come with in-person contact with nature for at least two hours per week.
Nature has the capacity to enhance creativity. It can make us more curious and more flexible in the way we think while simultaneously reducing stress and relieving burn-out symptoms. The creative process involves being sensitive towards problems, generating new ideas, being flexible in our perspectives and organizing our ideas into larger, more inclusive patterns.
When we interact with nature, the entire creative process is heightened. The relationship between nature and creativity is complex, but it does appear that natural environments are rich in the characteristics necessary to give us the creative boost we need.
There is a practice, called grounding or earthing, that purports the benefits of walking barefoot on the Earth. The idea is that people have lost touch with the subtle electric charge from the Earth because of inventions such as shoes, furniture and buildings. Some advocates of grounding say that this disconnect might be contributing to chronic diseases. As crazy as it may sound, research has shown that barefoot contact with the Earth can produce marked changes in physiology and health.
Participants in grounding studies report that walking barefoot on the Earth enhances their health and provides feelings of wellbeing. It has also been reported to reduce and prevent inflammation following injury, improve sleep, reduce pain, reduce stress and speed wound healing.
It seems very apparent that spending time outdoors has many health benefits. Whether you are enjoying different activities like hiking or biking or just walking and enjoying the scenery, you will benefit from being outside. Nature can help you be a happier, better rested and more creative person. Exposure to nature also allows us to remember some of the more important things in life like relationships and community.
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/silviarita