The benefits of being active in nature almost seem too good to be true. In this article, you will learn the physical and mental benefits of being active in nature.
It is my opinion that the stigma of loving nature can actually hinder people from actively seeking it more. I often hear the terms tree hugger, hippy, and hick to describe those who cherish their walks in the woods. I attribute being active outdoors to having a very healthy immune system and overall being a happy person. Hippies are associated with peace for a reason!! Nature is soothing to the soul, enhances creativity, and promotes well being.
Effects from Being Indoors
Spending time indoors is obviously something that is very difficult to get away from in this day and age. However, the stats are now leaning very heavy towards inactivity, high tech use, and spending an enormous amount of time inside.
An article in Nature reports that the average American spending a total of 93 percent of their lives inside (87 percent in homes/buildings and the other 6 percent in a car).
If you take our life expectancy of 79 years or so – this results in 73 years separated from the very beauty of nature that can drastically change our lives for the better.
Another study by EPA New England estimates that indoor pollutants can be as 2-5 times higher than outdoor concentrations and are potential cause of heart disease, respiratory disease, and possibly even cancer.
Other contributing factors-fluorescent lighting & computer screens can lead to migraines, mercury poisoning, back problems, and eye issues.
Living a sedentary life indoors can also increase our chances of psychological problems, cancer, diabetes, memory loss and erectile dysfunction.
Through being active outdoors- you are an ACTIVE participant in life. You make the choice of when, where, and how long you will engage in your chosen activity. You are making a positive choice every time you decide to get off the couch and out the door.
Being indoors, watching TV or scrolling through Social Media promotes a sedentary and consuming type lifestyle. This is a passive way to live and often times can lead to negative thoughts towards others when you see them on Instagram having fun in a beautiful location. Being active in nature is a way to remain fit and healthy for your entire life. Here some reasons to head outdoors for Exercise.
Fun to Exercise Outdoors
There are so many different activities & sports you can do outdoors that don’t even feel like you’re getting exercise. Some ways include disc golf (never too old to play in the park), tennis, rock climbing, walking in a nature preserve, bike ride on the green belt, rollerblading, playing basketball..the list goes on.
Personally, hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Recently, I went on a 10 mile hike and it felt like 5. The surrounding terrain had me captivated the entire time and I couldn’t wait for each step to see what was around the corner.
It is also a blast to explore new places in your State and get out of your comfort zone. Visiting new places adds variety and spice to life. Planning hiking, camping, & kayaking trips to beautiful places in your State is an ideal way to make outdoor fitness a permanent part of your life!
Due to increased time indoors, sleep patterns have become disrupted for many people. How we sleep is regulated by our internal body clock- also known as circadian rhythm. This rhythm is linked with the patterns of the sun. Too much time indoors being exposed to artificial light throws off our internal clocks.
You can reset this clock by getting outdoors into the sunlight. A study from the University of Colorado proved that a few nights camping outdoors resets your internal clock to a more natural and healthy setting.
Strenuous exercise outdoors is even better for improving your odds of getting a great night’s sleep at the end of the day. Those who are alert and perky during the day sleep longer and more soundly. Body temperature also impacts how we sleep. The temperature in our bodies increase during the day and drop at night-a clue to go to sleep. Hiking for example, can raise and keep the body temperature as much as two degrees. At night, you’ll have this drop in temperature , cooling your body which helps you sleep better.
Increased levels of Vitamin D
A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to a host of issues, including dementia, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and even cancer. The most abundant source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Despite this being fairly common knowledge, many folks don’t get enough of it!
A study from John Hopkins University found a link between exercising outdoors and vitamin D levels. Being active in nature maximizes our health boosting Vitamin D quota. The more we are active outdoors, the higher our Vitamin D levels and lowers our risk of stroke, heart disease, and a number of other illnesses.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The great news for outdoor lovers is that moderately intense exercise such as hiking or walking are effective in reducing the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. You don’t have to be an Ultra Marathon runner to get the benefits!
A six-year study by Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory in CA. analyzed more than 30,000 runners and 15,000 walkers. The findings concluded that walking and hiking had similar reductions in risk as the more vigorous group of runners. A short hike can reduce blood pressure by 4-10 points.
One common source of pain for people is inflammation. There are varying levels of severity. Factors that can increase chronic inflammation include: being older, obesity, poor diet (high in fats and sugars), smoking, stress, sleep problems, and low sex hormones.
A study from the Biomed Environmental Science showed that a method called forest bathing drastically reduced symptoms of inflammation and stress with those who took part in the study. They concluded that, “Forest bathing is beneficial to human health, perhaps through preventative effects related to pathological factors.”
Also, research shows that natural sunlight can help to reduce pain. In one study, surgery patients who were exposed to high intensity sunlight felt less stress, and pain and took less pain medication.
Boosts Immune System
It is the Japanese that first used the method called, Forest Bathing to boost their Immune System and overall mental and physical health. Studies show the phytoncides (airborne chemicals from trees) has been shown to increase levels of white blood cells. These white blood cells help us to fight off infections and disease.
The phytoncides are antibacterial and antifungal which helps the plants and trees fight off diseases. When we breathe these in, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of the white blood cells (aka natural killer cells). White blood cells kill the virus and tumor infected cells in our bodies.
- In one Japanese study- those who went on a 3 night, 2 day Forest bathing excursion had an increase in their white blood cells for more than 30 days.
- Researchers who used the Profile of Mood States test found that those who went on forest bathing trips had significantly decreased scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue..
In my opinion, this is a solid case right here for more Medical Specialists to start actually prescribing the outdoors vs. doling out prescriptions! This is a method that is starting to be used by some in the Medical profession, but is only now scratching the surface. If you are interested in this, you may not be able to get a plan going with a “traditional” Doctor. Nature prescriptions for the time being may be given by more by Naturopathic Doctors.
Helps Your Vision
One of the greatest risks to the health of our eyes is from spending too much time on the computer. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) can lead to dry or red eyes, blurred vision, headaches, migraines and irritation around the eyes and happens when we spend too much time in front of laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones.
One study has shown that nearsightedness has seen a 17 percent increase in the last 50 years in the US.
You can drastically reduce your chances of having any of these happen to you by getting into nature and looking at objects that are further away. This is why nature is ideal! Go to places that have beautiful open meadows or stands of Aspen trees and allow your eyes to rest easily on the beauty of nature.
The connection between your physical and mental state is very prominent. If you are in a poor mental state, then it often leads to a poor physical condition as well. This connection may seem very obvious, but is often overlooked by people. Think of this example- when you are sad (mental state) you may cry(physical state) as a result. Here’s another example – when you are very happy (Mental state), it causes you to smile (physical state).
Stress can wreak all sorts of havoc on the body. I’ve known people that have had so much stress in their lives that it caused them numerous physical health issues. Electronic devices, daily demands and people can be some of the causes of stress in our daily lives.
The great news is however by spending more time outdoors, you can lower your stress levels considerably! In one study researchers in Holland found that 30 minutes of gardening was enough to reduce participants cortisol levels significantly compared to those who read a book for the same timeframe. And back to our Japanese method of forest bathing, studies indicate that walking in nature for as little as 20 minutes also greatly reduces stress and anxiety.
Be Present & Happy
City environments have loads of people, traffic, pollution, billboards, and concrete. These elements can keep us in a state of confusion and give us feelings of being completely overwhelmed.
It can be difficult to stay happy when you have long commutes, sit in a cube all day getting interrupted, attending useless meetings, and receiving a barrage of electronic messages. It can be difficult to enjoy times like these and be “present” in these moments.
When we have this much stimuli coming at us on a constant basis, and thinking about about what we need to do next, etc. , it makes it very difficult to enjoy the moment.
One researcher states, ” “When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources.”
This is why getting into nature is so important- to get away from the texts, emails, and artificial structures within the City.
You can be present in nature, where your mind can relax significantly. Your mind can be focused on only your surroundings- and not what happened yesterday or all the work that waits you. You can experience joy when looking upon a large oak vs. a slew of incoming texts and emails.
Natural settings encourage involuntary focus, where our vision and attention are open and relaxed, not jerked around from one stimulus to another (like oncoming traffic).
In a forest for instance, your gaze softens and opens. The green environment allows you to relax which makes you more mentally receptive. For these reasons, you can think and see more clearly in nature. Natural beauty soothes us and relaxes the mind immensely.
Increases Generosity and Kindness
This may be a hard one for people to believe, but there are studies to back this up! From my personal experience, I would say this is very true. I am so happy in nature, and in awe of nature’s splendor that it makes me want to give back.
In a series of experiments published in 2014, researchers from the University of California Berkeley studied the impact of nature on the willingness to be trusting, generous, and helpful towards others while also taking into consideration factors that could influence this relationship.
The first part of this study was to show the participants nature scenes (the beauty levels were rated independently)
The second part was to observe how they behaved playing two different games that measured trust and generosity. For those who were exposed to the more beautiful scenes, they were more trusting and generous in those games than those who saw less beautiful scenes. This end result appeared to be due to corresponding increase in positive emotions.
The outdoors and being in beautiful settings can drastically increase your creativity. Getting outdoors can help you in your job/business too! Putting in 60 plus hours a week is not always the solution to accomplishing your work. A counter intuitive approach for many is to set a limit on the number of hours you work – and make time to get into nature instead.
Having one or two solid ideas can literally save you hundreds of hours. Being able to think through a problem before taking action can also save you loads of time. Getting into nature will increase your creativity and problem solving skills- which in turn gives you better ideas. These ideas could save you countless hours in spinning your wheels.
One study done with a group of Backpackers found they scored 50 % higher on a creativity test after spending a few days in the wild without their electronics.
Some of the best ideas I’ve ever had I thought of while hiking. I wasn’t even consciously thinking about the issue/problem -it just came to me.
Being outdoors without your phone and other distractions restores your attention, enhances higher order thinking and boosts creativity.
A surge in creativity happens once our attention is restored. The constant demand of attending meetings, responding to texts and emails, and the general business of life places a huge burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the region that is involved in multi-tasking and higher order thinking.
All of these small demands add up to make us very distracted and makes our brains tired. This in turn makes it difficult to focus, and come up with new ideas. Research shows when people are in nature, the prefrontal cortex is less active.
No need to go on a 10 mile hike to achieve these results. A 25 minute walk in a green space is enough to give your brain a rest and boost your cognitive functioning.
The imagination network is crucial to your level of creativity. It pulls from different regions across the brain- including the hippocampus. This is the area where memories are formed and stored. The prefrontal cortex is involved in self focused processing- which includes autobiographical memories and planning. Our imagination network is what lets us dream, explore and imagine other perspectives and scenarios, imagine the future and create meaning from our experiences.
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Corporations & Hospital Studies
- A study conducted by Robertson Cooper found that employees demonstrate a 15% increase in well-being when exposed to natural elements such as green plants, trees and sunlight (Humanspaces: Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace).
- Another study conducted at the University of Oregon discovered that nearly 10% of employee absences can be attributed to being inside a building all day with no windows or views of trees and landscapes. The artificial lighting, stale air, and being surrounded by walls without windows are all contributors to employees calling in sick.
- Incorporating nature into Hospitals also has its benefits. A 1984 study demonstrates patients with a view of nature from their hospital beds have stays that are 8.5% shorter, have improved outcomes and reduced healthcare costs. (Ulrich, Science, 1984)
For Corporations to add windows, natural lighting, walking paths, plants and trees it would be an additional cost up front- but could save money in the long run. According to Integrated Benefits Institute, illness-related lost productivity costs companies $530 billion per year. It is very likely this number would go down drastically the more access employees had to green spaces.
Again- I can definitely relate to this example. When I worked Downtown, I would go for walks in 100 + plus heat with an umbrella (to keep the sun off of me). A lot of people would look at me funny, but I didn’t care. My office had zero windows and stale artificial lighting; so to stay mentally healthy I had to get outside! I felt more energy and alert after returning from these walks. Have you heard of Secretary spread? It’s a bit derogatory, but very true. A lot of time spent sitting on your butt can make it big! Staying in shape was another huge motivator for me.
Benefits of Being Active Outdoors Summary
Being surrounded by nature has major benefits to both your mental and physical health. If you commute long hours, and work in a cubicle or office with no windows it is vitally important to counter with a hike in the woods, gardening, or some other activity that gets you into a green space.
For our youth today, it is critical to have parks throughout the City to provide them with places to play. Too much time indoors playing on electronics leads to being over weight and living a sedentary lifestyle. Hospitals and Corporations should do their best to incorporate green spaces into their environment.
I would love to hear how being active outdoors has changed your life! Please leave a comment below.