5 Health Benefits of Getting Outside
Do you remember what summers were like when you were a kid? If they were like mine, you’d wake up early, chow down on some breakfast, and then your mother would push you outside and tell you to be back by lunch. You may not have been thinking about the health benefits of getting outside, but you were experiencing them.
And do you remember the last time you went roaming like that as an adult? It’s probably been a while, given that Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. I know it’s great to hunker down on the couch and watch Netflix for eight hours straight. But now’s the time to reconnect to our childhood wisdom and get outside.
Here are the benefits if you do.
If you’re feeling like you can’t get your racing mind or racing heart to calm down, outside time is a powerful support to re-claim your calm. Being outside can actually reduce your levels of cortisol, a stress-indicating hormone our body releases to control our fight-or-flight reaction.
Environmental psychologist Judith Heerwagon told The Huffington Post, “Just looking at a garden or trees or going for a walk, even if it’s in your own neighborhood, reduces stress. I don’t think anyone understands why, but there’s something about being in a natural setting that shows clear evidence of stress reduction, including physiological evidence—like lower heart rate.”
Get more exercise
Do you want to run through a park, or inside on a treadmill? Yeah, exactly. Well it turns out that you will actually get more, better exercise if you go outside. A study in PLOS One measured the differences between people who didn’t exercise, exercised indoors, or exercised outside. Of course the two groups that exercised had more benefits than the one that didn’t. But the people who exercised outside reported feeling more awake, energized, happy and calm than the people who worked out indoors. And (and this is important, folks) they felt less tired than the people who worked out indoors. Their workout felt easier, even though they were working out as hard on the grass or pavement as the people on the treadmills.
This will make sense if you’re a fan of getting sweaty out of doors. Exercising in nature means you get the endorphins of the increased heart rate, plus the calm and peace from being outside. You have a better time, which means you’re more likely to return and try it again. What a win!
Fight depression and anxiety
Did you know that just being outside can make you feel less anxious? You don’t have to do anything (though by all means, if you feel like a quick meditation moment while you’re out there it’s encouraged).
Part of what helps this is that we tend to be in motion when we’re outside, and exercise of any sort boosts our happy hormones and makes us feel better. But studies have found that green environments improve both self-esteem and mood, and that walks outdoors can be used clinically as supplements to existing treatments for major depressive disorder.
Improve mental focus
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health compared mental focus and concentration between two groups of children with ADHD: one that played outside, and one that played inside after school and on weekends. They found that exposure to nature “may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children.” The study showed that it wasn’t the difference in activities indoors versus outdoors that was making the improvements in the children—it was the fact of being outside.
And researchers for the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that walking increases creative drive. The walking itself brings benefits, so theoretically you could just walk around the supermarket and improve your creative energy, but the study found that the simple act of being outside does increase that creative drive. The walking not only increased the number of ideas people had, but the novelty and inventiveness of those ideas.
Raise Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D gives our bodies so many health benefits: it improves muscle function, helps with weight loss, reduces physical fatigue, and enhances the immune system. And, if given the right tools, our bodies have the ability to actually produce this stuff. But we need enough sunlight to make it happen.
How does the process work? Well, when the sun hits our skin, the ultraviolet energy converts a chemical on our skin into vitamin D3, the precursor to vitamin D. The D3 is then carried into the liver, and then the kidneys, which transforms it into the active vitamin D. But what do we need before our bodies can do this amazing process and produce this magical substance? Sunlight. And how do we get sunlight? By going outside.
These are just some of the health benefits of getting outside and staying outside. It’s summer, the time when literally any piece of grass can be used as an outdoor couch. So go for a walk, cook outdoors, make dandelion chains and do your yoga in the backyard. There is no wrong way to get outside.
Be well this summer!