Breathing in fresh air and drinking in green scenery is good for the body, mind, and soul: It can benefit your mental health, fitness level, and overall happiness and well-being.
“The notion that the fresh breezes, dappled sunlight and fragrant greenery of a garden can be good for what ails us has its roots in ancient tradition and common sense,” Deborah Franklin writes on Scientific American. But only recently has a large amount of research been done to examine the benefits of nature on the human mind and body. In light of National Great Outdoors Month, below are six reasons why you should spend extra time outside in the warm weather.
Toning Up With 'Green Exercise'
This may go without saying, but being out and about in the great outdoors can naturally increase your physical activity, typically more so than being cooped up in the house. Inside the limits of your apartment, you’re more likely to gravitate to the couch or computer, where you might maintain a sedentary lifestyle.
Research has shown that being outside is particularly beneficial to children, as an average American kid spends an average of six hours a day locked to some form of electronic media, whether it’s the computer or video games. Don’t wait until a massive power outage to shake the dust from your bike, skateboard, rollerblades or running shoes. You’re going to feel better after a good workout in the fresh air than you would eating in front of a television screen. Being outdoors while exercising is a notion known as “green exercise” and something that researchers are further investigating. Just five minutes of green exercise boosted people’s self-esteem and mood, according to researchers at the University of Essex in England.
Boosting Optimism, Fighting Depression
Research has shown that being in nature can have a significant impact on your mental health — whether it boosts your optimism and self-control, fights depression, or simply improves your mood.
One study showed that people who spent more time in natural settings instead of urban ones were more likely to think about the future, and avoid the desire to give into instant gratification — something that makes it so difficult for individuals to battle obesity, substance abuse, and other health problems. In short, nature helped participants become more self-controlled. Instant gratification, or the tendency to “discount the future,” was lessened after people spent time outside. “The finding that nature exposure reduces future discounting — as opposed to exposure to urban environments — conveys important implications for a range of personal and collective outcomes including healthy lifestyles, sustainable resource use and population growth,” the authors wrote in their abstract.
The lead author of the study, Professor Van Vugt, noted that “[u]rban landscapes tend to make us very impulsive and more short-term thinkers. Being in towns and cities increase competition — for status, resources, partners — and so we feel the need to make quick decision.”
In addition to helping you learn how to delay gratification, nature can battle depression. A University of Essex study found that taking a walk outside reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants, compared to 45 percent of people who took a walk through a shopping mall.
Improve Your Creativity
If you have writer’s block or are stuck on a problem, instead of surfing the web for ideas, the best thing to do is to get outside and go for a walk. Research has shown that people can boost their creativity by getting out.
One study showed that participants scored 50 percent higher on a creativity test after spending four days in nature. "This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn't been formally demonstrated before," co-author Professor David Strayer of the University of Utah said in a statement. "It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature," he continued.
The More Vitamin D, The Stronger Your Immune System
It’s very likely that you might have a Vitamin D deficiency, as over one billion people in the world don’t get enough of it. That’s because they’re not spending as much time outside — absorbing the sun — as they should. This is why it’s called the “sunshine vitamin.”
Lacking Vitamin D compromises your immune system and can lead to a host of chronic diseases, like osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and even the flu, according to Harvard School of Public Health. In order to get your proper amounts, spend 15 minutes a day walking in the sun. Spending even just a few minutes every day with mild sunlight can boost your Vitamin D levels and improve your immune system.
A study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that walking in nature could improve concentration abilities of children suffering from attention-deficit disorder. Another 2004 study came to a similar conclusion, finding that “green” activities reduced ADHD symptoms more than activities in other settings. Nature aids in rectifying attention fatigue: our environment plays a significant role on our concentration abilities. Looking at objects with “high fascination,” that are visually interesting, has been shown to help in attention recovery, compared to enclosed spaces like offices or schools.
Nature’s Healing Powers
Research has also shown that not only does nature help recover your attention, your creativity, self-control and mental well-being, but it can also help people heal faster physically. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh found that spinal surgery patients experienced less stress and physical pain due to being exposed to natural light.