Nature and Health: 5 Surprising Reasons to Spend Time Outside
Wish you spent more time outdoors? There is a strong link between nature and health. Here are 5 reasons that will motivate you to make time to get outside!
Studies show that there is a strong connection between nature and health for people of all ages and income levels.
Elderly residents in nursing homes and hospitals report stronger feelings of well-being when they have a garden view. They also have a reduced risk of developing dementia when they have access to time in a garden. Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Even dogs who get more time outside have healthier coats and a reduced risk of weight gain.
Here are five ways spending time outside improves our health – from our mental well-being to our physical fitness. You might find yourself craving an evening walk after reading this!
Nature and health: 5 surprising reasons to spend time (even just 15 minutes!) outside today
Being in nature helps us think more clearly.
Due to increased pressure to improve standardized test results, many teachers across America have cut back on or eliminated recess altogether. Studies show that the teachers who use those 30 minutes for test preparation are making a big mistake.
- Studies show that schools with environmental education programs score higher on almost every type of standardized test, including reading, writing, listening and math.
- Research suggests that exposure to natural settings is highly effective in reducing the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.
- Being outside helps children combat what psychologists call “directed attention fatigue,” or constantly having to focus mental effort on unnatural stimulation.
And it’s not just children who benefit. A growing body of research suggests that walking outside improves our memory and attention and promotes new connections between brain cells.
Spending time outside improves our heart health.
A large study showed that living in or within walking distance to a green space is associated with lower rates of heart disease, stroke, obesity and mortality rates in general.
Another study showed that if everyone visited their local park for 30 minutes each week there would be 9 percent fewer cases of high blood pressure.
Additionally, research shows a two-fold increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables people who participate in community gardens eat. By being more connected with where our food comes from, we are more likely to eat healthier diets that are better for our hearts.
Always sick? You may want to get some fresh air.
Think being outside in the cold makes you sick? Think again. Studies show that there is a clear positive link between nature and health, and that people who aren’t exposed to the healthy bacteria found in nature have a higher incidence of allergies and autoimmune disease and poorer health in general.
One study showed that after spending just a few hours in the woods, women saw a 37 percent spike in the number of their “natural killer cells” – the backbone of the immune system.
Scientists in Japan found that a one-day trip to a suburban park can boost immune activity for up to a week! In fact, in Japan “forest bathing,” which essentially involves just being in the presence of trees has proven so effective at lowering heart rate and blood pressure that it’s become a central element of public health.
Want to kick your brooding habit? Take a short walk.
Do you ever lay awake at night thinking about all of the “could haves” and “should haves” in your life? Cognitive scientists define brooding as “morbid rumination.” It is a mental state many of us are unfortunately familiar with! Brooding is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex and is a precursor to anxiety and depression.
To see if activity in a natural setting helps people quell brooding, researchers asked the participants to walk. They told half of their volunteers to take a stroll through a leafy, pretty area, and the other half to walk along a highway. Guess what they found? The volunteers who walked in the pretty area showed meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to questionnaire scores and blood flow measures.
In addition to brooding, being in nature helps us combat:
- Depression: City dwellers have higher risk of anxiety, depression and mental illness. However, those who visit natural environments have reduced levels of stress hormones immediately afterward.
- Stress: 86 percent of stressed-out women say their mood improves when they spend time outside.
- Anxiety: One organization in Scotland found that unstructured outdoor play combats the effects of anxiety in at-risk children.
- Self-esteem: When people took hour-long walks in a perk versus a mall, 90 percent of study participants reported higher levels of self-esteem. Seventy-one percent said they felt less depressed.
Being outside helps us heal quicker.
Natural environments accelerate healing.
One study showed that hospital patients who were in rooms that faced trees recovered quicker than those in rooms that faced a brick wall. The patients that faced a brick wall, on average:
- Needed an extra day to recover before returning home;
- Had more depression;
- Experienced more pain;
- Had four negative notes regarding their health each day, as opposed to the others, which had one; and
- Required an average of three doses of painkillers a day, whereas the other group required only one.
Don’t forget to hydrate while you’re outside! Ready to benefit from the amazing things being outside offers us?
Our bodies need 64 ounces of water a day in order to stay hydrated. However, most of us only drink a fraction of that. Reap the most benefits of being outside by drinking more water! Be sure to drink from a safe, toxic-free source. Our stainless-steel water bottles are built for real life. Grab one in every color and make them your essential health partner!
What do you think?
What is one way you can get more time in nature this week? Let us know in the comments below.