Just two hours a week will increase your health and wellbeing.
Did you know that spending just 10-20 minutes a day - outside, a few times a week - whether it be a park, a walk around the neighborhood, a trip to the local lake or just sitting in a wooded area-can increase your mental and physical well being? The sounds of nature likes hearing birds or squirrels, breathing in fresh air, listening to the wind blowing through the trees and feeling a cool breeze on your face can be rejuvenating and help you feel refreshed. I'm sure we've all felt this way before after spending time outside, but there are other health benefits that may surprise you.
Here are 6 benefits to getting yourself out of the house and into nature.
1. Being in nature, as I've mentioned in my article about going barefoot in nature, helps boost the immune system. Scientists have found that being in natural surroundings with plenty of sunlight, trees, flowers, fields or natural water springs brings about positive improvements in immune function. These studies here, here and here demonstrate a positive immune reaction to spending time outdoors. Nature walks have also been known to lower stress hormones, which in turn helps boost the immune system as well.
2. Consuming yourself in nature can be exhilarating and inspirational. Research has shown that spending time in nature boosts creativity. The research was conducted at The University of Kansas, by researcher Ruth Ann Atchley. “Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses,” said Atchley. “Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”
These days with more and more people spending time on devices, technology, social media and gaming systems, people are spending less and less time outside. This most definitely has ramifications to our physical well-being. This study found that spending less time in nature has a negative impact our brain with how we think and behave.
"Attention Restoration Theory (ART)  suggests that nature has specific restorative effects on the prefrontal cortex-mediated executive attentional system, which can become depleted with overuse. High levels of engagement with technology and multitasking place demands on executive attention to switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. ART suggests that interactions with nature are particularly effective in replenishing depleted attentional resources."
This means being outside helps you increase your attention span and become more focused.
Since being in nature can make you feel refreshed and rejuvenated, it's no surprise that your creativity and focus get a boost! Nature helps replenish your energy, giving you inspiration.
3. The positive effects of resting your mind, reducing stress & anxiety and boosting immunity are also contributors to other important brain functions. With your increased focus and attention, comes improved memory and cognitive function.
Dr. Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, with partners from the University of Michigan and Stanford University, led this study.
"Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment," said Dr. Berman. There was a 20% mental boost from walking in nature. Walking in nature improves memory, mood and also helps with depression.
4. Being outside also helps improve eyesight! How so? It can reverse the effects of screen time by exposing your eyes to landscapes, forcing your eyes to focus both near and far, reducing nearsightedness.
5. Being in the sunshine also has its own benefits. Just 15-20 minutes of sun to skin contact (depending where you live) provides an ample dose of vitamin D for your body.
Vitamin D plays an important role in building strong bones, by aiding the absorption of calcium and phosphate, while also protecting against muscle weakness, heart disease, obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, MS, and asthma.
Even on cloudy or overcast days, the UV rays can still peep down through the clouds, and there may be breaks of sunlight from time to time. So you can still get outside and soak up some vitamin D, just not at the fast rate that you would on a tropical island. You will need to spend some time outside, probably hours, on an overcast day in order to get your daily dose.
6. And finally, spending time in nature can reset your circadian rhythm (inner clock). This study found that people who spent a weekend camping in mother nature fell asleep sooner, then woke up earlier in the morning.
After the weekend, they returned to their homes and continued to fall asleep sooner and sleep for a longer period of time.
What is resetting your inner clock so important? These biological rhythms regulate body temperature, hormone release, hunger and sleep/wake cycles. Researchers in chronobiology believe that the disruption of these rhythms have a connection with a number of illnesses that include bipolar disorder, depression, diabetes, obesity and seasonal affective disorder. The majority of people experiencing abnormal circadian rhythms develop a sleeping disorder.
As you can see, spending time in nature has major benefits for our physical and mental well-being. To top it off if you are actually getting in physical activity and exercise, the benefits multiply. So the next time you are having a rough day or are feeling negative, take a walk outside and breath in the fresh air. It could be just what you need.
Kelly Cuip, R.H.N.P.