Remember the good ol’ days? Your parents shout from upstairs, “Go outside and play!” Hours later, you’d come in with muddy knees, a scrape on your elbow, and a huge exhausted smile on your face.
Ah yes… playing outside was fun as a kid.
So, why should it change as an adult? It turns out, going outdoors has some solid health benefits that you can’t get otherwise. It can have a positive effect on both your physical and mental health.
So, while autumn settles in for a stay, take advantage of the crisp cool weather and take your exercise and leisure time outside a few times a week. According to a study published in Scientific Report, you can reap the health benefits of nature without spending a lot of time outdoors. In fact, just two hours a week is enough to make a difference.
We understand that the premise for this may sound a little vague. Sure, people may seem happier after a great day out and about with friends, but does that actually mean they are healthier?
Well, it turns out the answer is “yes!”
The leaders on the study made sure to account for as many variables as possible. They gathered information about prior health conditions and exercise habits of all of the participants as part of the study.
They also took a look at occupations, marital status, and poverty and crime rates of their neighborhoods. This takes into account the great difference in what “outdoors” means for an inner city neighborhood versus a Midwestern farming community.
Participants answered these questions, as well as whether or not they regularly spent time outdoors, and how much on average. They then rated their feelings of health and well-being.
“Check yes if you feel awesome!” You get the idea.
The researchers found that people who spent time outdoors were 59% more likely to rate their health and well-being as “high” or “good”.
More importantly, however, was the amount of time that seemed to make a difference. Apparently, you can prescribe a dosage for the amount of time you should be outdoors to see benefits!
The study showed when people hit the 2-3 hour/week mark, those positive feelings increase by over 10%.
While general feelings of health and well-being are great, there are also measurable benefits to be gained from spending some time in the fresh air.
Lower Blood Pressure – When you have high blood pressure, it increases the strain on your heart and circulatory system which forces them to work harder while being less effective. High blood pressure is a contributing factor for loss of vision, stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.
When it comes down to it, it’s pretty straight forward: lower blood pressure means a happier and healthier you.
Lower Heart Rate – In general, a lower heart rate usually means that you are in better shape. This is because your heart isn’t having to work too hard to pump your blood throughout your body.
Lower Levels of Cortisol – Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone. It works in your brain to control your mood, motivation and fear levels. You may have heard of cortisol because it controls your “fight or flight” reflex.
Cortisol also does some really important things that don’t require fending for your life. It keeps inflammation down, regulates your blood pressure, manages your body’s use of the foods you eat, and boosts your energy.
Now you might be saying, those are all good things, so why would I want it to be lower?
Well, cortisol does all of these things when it is at a proper level. When you have too much cortisol, your body focuses on “fight or flight” and those other things go out the window.
Spending time outdoors helps keep your cortisol at a level where it can perform the jobs your body needs, like digesting your food and regulating your heart rate.
Better Sleep – We all have busy schedules and a million things to do on the daily. Walk the dog… prep the meeting for work… pick up kids from lacrosse practice… the list goes on and on.
This is why good quality sleep is so important. This is when your body grows muscle, repairs damage and create the hormones you need.
Lack of sleep can lead to a staggering amount of problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, vision and memory loss… basically a whole lot of nasty things will happen.
As part of a 2018 review of 140 studies, researchers found that individuals who spent time outside over the course of the week were able to get more quality sleep.
One of the best parts of this study is that it shows you don’t need to be an outdoor adventurer to feel better. There’s no pre-requisite that you need to be hiking, running, mountain climbing or kayaking whitewater rapids.
You just need to be outdoors!
It’s important to remember these benefits aren’t only for those who can take the time for a vacation.
As Kathleen Wolf, a researcher at the University of Washington College of the Environment, states, “There’s often a belief that to get out into nature, you have to travel to a national park. But it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be hours in one shot.”
In fact, for most people in the study, getting out in nature happened within two miles of their house. They just went to their local park or green space.
With that in mind, there is nothing stopping you and endless options for how to make it happen.
Take A Break – No matter what your daily schedule entails, take a break. And when you do, take it outside. Feel the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face, even if only for a few minutes before you head back to the grind. It counts toward you 2-3 hours.
Go For A Walk in the Morning – Find a local park and go for a walk. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or time-consuming. If you want to really up those benefits, go for a walk after dinner.
Read a Book – Instead of sitting inside and binge-watching Netflix, go to the park and read the book that inspired the show.
Play With Your Dog – Take your four-legged friend to the dog park and enjoy some quality time together. You’ll both head home happier and healthier.
Take advantage of the opportunities while fair weather is on your side and reap all the benefits nature has to offer.
Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being: Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, James Grellier, Benedict W. Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara L. Warber, Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge & Lora E. Fleming; 2019
2 Hours/Week in Nature: Your Prescription for Better Health?: Amy Norton; 2019