Technology is becoming increasingly immersive. Many people now spend their time plugged in, tapping away, and staring at screens for work or entertainment. It is time to get outdoors.
Granted, you may step out of your house to go to work or get groceries. But that hurried walk doesn't count as having spent quality time in an outdoor space to refresh and revitalize. Spending time outdoors and relating with the natural world has impressive benefits for our physical and mental health.
One leaf or drop of water may not mean so much, but when the leaves become trees, and the water flows, we see the beauty and power of nature. Nature is tranquil, yet it energizes. It exercises the body and mind so smoothly that it feels non-deliberate. Thus, humans have always turned to nature for health and comfort.
Japanese culture has a lovely term for time spent enjoying nature: forest bathing or 'shinrin-yoku.' They coined it to describe the immersive approach to reconnecting with nature.
It includes activities like camping, kayaking, hiking, or just taking a leisurely walk through your local park. Ecotherapy is another word people use, to sum up activities involved in relating and connecting to nature in a way that brings health benefits.
As we spend time with nature, it's essential that we actively participate in sustaining it. The facts show our collective needs to step up and work to address climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.
Be security conscious: You should inform the necessary friends or family of your intended destination and your likely return time.
Have a means of communication: Make sure you go out with a fully charged phone; you might need to call someone or check your map. If you are going to an area where cell service might not be available, think of how you'll communicate if an emergency arises.
Grab an eco-friendly phone case to protect your device from accidental knocks to help ensure it’ll be in good working order should you need it.
Be prepared: A short walk outdoors is amazing. However, a longer stay, camping, or on holiday can feel truly transformative if you get the chance.
If you intend to stay longer, be prepared for the elements and a change in weather. Grab some eco-friendly camping gear for those overnight outdoor adventures under the stars.
People use sunscreen often, not only at the beach or pool, and some of the skincare products they use daily contain SPF. In trying to protect your skin from sunburn, too much SPF is probably preventing your body from taking in the much-needed vitamin. Forget fancy diets and supplements; they can only supply about 50% of the amount the body needs6.
Increased vitamin D supply boosts immune system function, and that is one of the well-known benefits of basking in the warm morning sunshine.
The sun is the best way to soak it up. It provides up to almost all of your body's daily requirement levels. The blood cells, skin, bone, and even a person's mood benefit from the vitamin. But you don't have to stay in the sun for too long. 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen is enough.
If you want to get fit the green exercise way, consider exercising with nature. Exercising outdoors is not only environmentally cheaper than air-conditioned gyms with heated pools and free towels but also an inexpensive way to burn calories compared to regular gym attendance.
On its own, exercise keeps you fit and healthy and improves your mood. More research suggests that greenery enhances mood as well. Whether you want to do planks, pushups, or take a walk, natural green spaces make exercise easier and more pleasurable. Nature relieves stress and keeps your mood light; that way, you can keep your motivation high to exercise regularly.
You would be surprised at how much good fresh air in the great outdoors would do for your brain. Being out in nature can improve your ability to focus and remember things.
More than a few studies suggest that nature can also boost creativity. One study carried out in Berlin observed increased grey matter volume in the brains of participants who spent time outdoors. This evidence corroborates the belief that going for a walk in a natural green space increases working memory. It also results in improved concentration and can help foster a positive attitude.
The research results came in after just a short time spent outdoors daily. That points to the effectiveness of taking a break from our cell phones and going outdoors for our brain health.
If you are spending too much time indoors, the chances are that your sleep cycle is off. That would happen because your eyes are not getting enough natural light to set your internal clock just right. Other factors that could affect your sleep include depression and stress.
Exposure to the early morning sun seems to help people sleep better at night.
This is important for older folks because as one gets older, our body absorbs less light. Thus, sleep becomes more difficult. However, spending time outside the house soaking up the sunshine can help.
One of the many benefits of going out is reduced anxiety and stress relief. Also, mild to vigorous exercise improves sleep. And what better way to infuse physical activity into your day than spending time in nature?
Related: Check out our guide to green noise and how it might be the answer to interrupted sleep.
Having a plant or pictures of beautiful natural landscapes can lessen anxiety and help you feel calmer. You can also read nature quotes and environment quotes to remind yourself about how precious things are outside the home. Needless to say, getting outdoors and experiencing the real thing proves even more beneficial to our mental well-being.
Researchers found evidence to support the beneficial effects of 'green-prescription' or nature therapy in coping with mental health issues4. More studies show that college students can manage stress and improve other mental health issues by spending time in nature1.
Another study found that a 50-minute walk in a forest provides numerous mental health benefits5 across stress, anxiety, and mood. They even did a memory test that showed improvements compared to those walking outside in urban environments along a city street or going without.
As some mental health quotes say, the outdoors could be just what you need to let stress, anxiety, or anger out of your body. Sunlight helps to boost serotonin levels, and even on cloudy days, the smell and sight of nature offer a calming effect.
Walking near a natural body of water or some lush green space can help boost your self-esteem. Gardening or a leisurely bike ride can help, too. Check out our gardening quotes to inspire your green thumb.
Read more: How Nature Benefits Mental Health.
The natural environment and a healthy lifestyle influence a person's life span. But just how much? In 2016, one study on two groups of women revealed that those living in areas with lots of green vegetation had lower mortality rates2.
Better air quality, improved mental health, increased physical activity, helping to maintain a healthy weight, and other benefits of the natural scene contribute to the protective effect.
The study conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed some interesting results. Women with at least 250 meters of greenery surrounding their homes had a 13% lower rate of cancer mortality than those who live in less green areas.
The researchers do not suggest that everyone should live near a park. About 84% of the study's participants live in urban areas. Nature comes in many forms, and you can embrace the natural environment around you to enjoy longevity benefits.
Apart from a healthy dose of vitamin D that strengthens your immune system, there are other ways that nature makes you healthier.
Many plants release organic substances into the air that help the immune system. Phytoncides are one such organic compound. White blood cells that help fight infections also receive some energy from sunlight.
Many writers will tell you that nature offers the best way out of writer's block. So, if you're working through a process and you run out of ideas, it may be time to take a walk. Newton figured out gravity sitting under an apple tree, and you may come up with something to do the next time you visit a leafy park.
Being out in nature helps reinvigorate your creativity, often triggering a new thought pattern. Most times, that happens because nature engages your thoughts calmly and intently. It settles your mind and helps you refocus and work out the knotty issue while momentarily leaving behind some of the cares of everyday life.
In this tech era, children become immersed in computer games and other toys that can encourage them to spend too much time indoors. According to eye experts, they can become disconnected from nature, which has health effects, particularly on their eyesight.
Children who spend too much time indoors do not get enough dopamine supplied by sunlight released into their eyes. Without enough dopamine in the eye, a child's eye gets longer, which eventually results in myopia (short-sightedness). Myopia can eventually result in total blindness if it is not adequately treated.
Experts say that kids who spend enough hours outdoors in bright light have a lower chance of developing myopia. Especially if it goes hand in hand with decreased screen time. The American Optometric Association recommends about three hours of outdoor activity daily to protect eyesight3.
A lot of our friendships today are online. If you live alone and work from home, you may not get to converse with anyone face-to-face unless you get up and go out. Sometimes, the formality of the work environment can prevent office workers from developing deep friendships.
One of the best ways to meet new people with no pressure is during an outdoor activity. Going on a bike ride, hiking, swimming in a lake, or just walking in the nearby park can lead you to folks who value nature just like you. Now, that's a great way to bond.
There are so many great benefits of getting outdoors, and time spent in nature is well spent, from reducing high blood pressure to boosting immunity and mental clarity. Whether you take an immersive forest bath or sit in your garden, you will enjoy the wellness benefits of natural green space.
Peter J. et al. 2016. Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women.
American Optometric Association. 2019. Doctors of Optometry in the Management of Myopia and Prevention of Related Eye Disease.
Simone Kühn, Anna Mascherek, Elisa Filevich, Nina Lisofsky, Maxi Becker, Oisin Butler, Martyna Lochstet, Johan Mårtensson, Elisabeth Wenger, Ulman Lindenberger & Jürgen Gallinat (2021) Spend time outdoors for your brain – an in-depth longitudinal MRI study, The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1080/15622975.2021.1938670
Koselka EPD, Weidner LC, Minasov A, et al. Walking Green: Developing an Evidence Base for Nature Prescriptions. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(22):4338. Published 2019 Nov 7. doi:10.3390/ijerph16224338
Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Vitamin D and your health: Breaking old rules, raising new hopes.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.