For optimal health, the latest research keeps pointing us in the same direction: outdoors!
“Time spent in nature may also improve social bonding and reduce social violence, stimulate learning and creativity, strengthen the conservation ethic, and even help raise standardized test scores,” says Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life
We’ve all felt that undeniable sense of peace that washes over you when you walk through a natural setting. The heart rate slows, the breath deepens, even the mind seems to slow its thoughts. We don’t need an expert to tell us that time spent outdoors makes us feel good. But how exactly does that peaceful feeling translate into wellness?
Mounting research shows spending anywhere from three minutes to three days surrounded by nature can benefit your health in a surprising number of ways. Even the simple act of walking through a local park instead of along a city street significantly slows the flow of blood in the prefrontal cortex, the command center of the brain, according to a 2015 study. (Translation: Quieter brain, happier mood.)
Other studies have found that same nature walk also can decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol. Just moving your workout from the gym to the outdoors gives you greater feelings of enjoyment, satisfaction and engagement, making it more likely you’ll repeat the activity, says a 2017 paper published in the Health & Place International Journal.
Finding life in Death Valley National Park. Jeff Bartlett
For those who struggle with sleep disorders, spending a weekend camping in the wilderness exposed to lots of natural light during the day and less artificial light at night can restore disrupted circadian rhythms associated with insomnia, reduced cognitive performance, mood disorders, diabetes, and obesity, according to more recent research. Spending as little as two days camping in a remote area was enough to reset participants’ internal clocks so they slept better once they returned home.
The effect on school-aged children and young adults may be among the most impressive connections between nature and wellness. Research from the University of Utah found subjects scored 50 percent better on creativity tests after spending several days in nature disconnected from devices.
Kids today spend more time indoors and on screens than ever before in human history, which means they’re spending a lot less time outdoors. Coining the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to explain the increasing loss of connection to nature as a chronic condition that results in emotional and behavioral problems in kids, award-winning author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv says the cure is to turn off the screens and play outdoors, hike, fish, or camp. “The evidence indicates that experiences in the natural world may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder, serve as a buffer to depression and anxiety, help prevent or reduce obesity, boost the immune system, and offer many other psychological and physical health benefits,” he says.
In his most recent book, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, Louv offers practical advice on how to get the most health benefits from nature. “Outdoor play of any sort is preferred to a sedentary lifestyle, but the quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience with nature is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy? Are they experiencing nature directly? These types of activities can help kids learn to have confidence in themselves and power to make independent decisions,” he says. “One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development.”
Spending more time outside being active may seem difficult, but it’s more attainable than you think! Start with something small. Consider eating your lunch at work outside, rather than inside or at your desk. If possible, take a short walk after your meal and before returning to your desk. After work, a walk or jog can help clear the mind and decrease some of the stress from your day. If that doesn’t sound appealing, simply laying down your yoga mat outside and going through a few poses can decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol. When the weekend rolls around, or if you have a free day during the week, spending more time outside will only increase the health benefits. The more time you spend outside, the happier your body (and brain) will be! And if you are still inside looking for some inspiration to get out there, check out these documentaries for that extra boost!
Gear up for all of your active adventures here!
And if you need any more convincing of why it is beneficial to spend time outside being active, take a spin through Ben Klasky’s TED Talk below. Although his talk is focused on the benefits of the outdoors in children’s lives, the same benefits apply to adults! See you out there.