Health Benefits of Being Outside

Have you ever been cooped up in a stuffy room, yawning and looking out the window thinking to yourself, “I need to go outside and get a breath of fresh air?” Besides the invigoration that getting outside provides, there is a growing body of evidence that quantifies just how healthy it is for us to get outside and commune with nature. Being outside in a natural setting, like a forest or meadow, produces numerous physiological benefits such as lowering anxiety and depression, increasing your creative juices, enhanced mental well-being, and improving your focus. Time outdoors boosts serotonin, which increases brain activity in the region of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. The color most people equate with the outdoors is green, which symbolizes tranquility, safety, harmony, cheerfulness, restfulness, and has soothing properties.

Besides the physiological benefits, the out of doors provides many physical benefits, as well. Some studies suggest that the quality of air outdoors is 30 times healthier for you than the air you breathe in a house or building. Being outdoors has been shown to reduce blood pressure, stress levels, and pulse rate; the smell of evergreen trees, like pine and spruce, produces compounds that are anti-inflammatory in nature. Getting some sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, which is essential for many physical processes. Exercising out of doors tends to burn more calories, because the athlete tends to be able to exert more energy for a longer period of time outdoors, compared to being indoors. It has also been shown that spending time outdoors in natural light tends to improve sleep, since it helps restore our normal Circadian rhythms.

Despite the well-known benefits of being outdoors, recent surveys have found that the average American spends 93% of their time indoors. Another survey states that children spend an average of seven minutes outside during the course of a day. Given this prevalent indoor lifestyle, there are many programs and groups that are encouraging more time outdoors in a natural setting (forest, park or natural area.) The Japanese developed a program called “Forest Bathing.” This program recommends visiting a forested area an average of one to four times a week, slowing down and becoming immersed in the experience. Forest bathers enjoy a plethora of health benefits, including improvements at the cellular level, decreased risk of heart attack, increased energy, and improved sleep patterns. In the United States, there are organizations such as Parks Rx (parkrxamerica.org) and Nature Rx (nature-rx.org) that are also championing communing with nature for a healthier mind and body.

If you are spending 93% of your time indoors, perhaps you can find a serene spot outside to visit, and see if your health and mental wellbeing improve with the experience.

Article and photos by FCFCDB

Nature note for 3/22/20