As we focus on lifestyle habits that promote health and wellness, research suggests that getting outdoors is an important part of reaching our goals. With the modern conveniences available today, it’s not uncommon for the average person to spend little time outdoors. So, what health benefits are we missing out on by not spending enough time in nature?
Nature mixed with physical activity can reduce stress.
One study found that spending time in green spaces is associated with significant health benefits. These include a reduced risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and an increase in average sleep duration. “Green spaces” are considered open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation. This also includes “urban green spaces” such as urban parks and street greenery.
Green spaces provide an opportunity for physical activity, social interactions, and are the “gateway” to stress reduction. Another study demonstrated how taking a walk in a city park for as little as 25 minutes was able to lower brain activity related to frustration and stressful feelings.
Time spent outdoors is tried and true.
Take for example the Japanese practice of forest bathing (“shinrin yoku”), or the art of slowly walking through a forest and acknowledging the atmosphere through all senses. Studies on forest bathing point to a plethora of restorative effects. Much of the research shows improvements among the immune system (increase in natural killer cells), cardiovascular system (decrease risk of hypertension and coronary artery disease), respiratory system (decrease in allergies), and depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D levels affect our immune system and sleep quality.
A few theories on why green spaces and forests are so particularly healing highlight the resulting increased exposure to sunlight. To activate the hormone vitamin D, sunlight is key. While it is helpful to increase vitamin D rich foods in our diet (i.e., mushrooms, sardines, and cod liver oil), a lack of sunshine is most often attributed to vitamin D deficiency.
Having enough vitamin D is imperative for a robust immune system. It decreases pro-inflammatory signals and supports the natural circadian rhythm of our sleep cycles. Getting outside and in sunlight, for a minimum of 20 minutes, a day can be a game-changer in helping you sleep better at night.
Another interesting theory surrounding the link between time spent in nature and health focuses on exposure to a wide range of microorganisms. Research demonstrates that exposure to these diverse microbes (via skin and nasal passages) indirectly shapes our human microbiome and helps regulate our own immune system. Time spent outdoors is vital to keeping our immune system in check and adaptable.
Tips To Help You Get Outside More
Whether you have access to your own backyard oasis or are able to head out to the mountains, there are many ways to harness the health benefits of the outdoors. For those who are looking for tips, here are a few:
- Increase your green space activity: Take working out to the next level by doing so in a green space vs. an indoor gym environment. Not only will you reap the benefits of physical activity, but also increase your sunlight exposure and activate vitamin D.
- Nature walks vs. break rooms: Consider taking a walk through a green space on your next work break. This allows for a “pause” in your day for reflection, returning to work refreshed and ready to go.
- Socialize at a park: While things start to open up these days, don’t let that stop you from planning a coffee date or a lunch “picnic style” with friends or family.
- Take a trip outside the city: As the heat starts to rise, many of us are planning to escape to the many national forests or parks found in Arizona. Take time on your trip to shut off your devices (if you have service), slow down and take deep breaths among whatever nature you find yourself in.
WellStyles Get Outside Challenge for June
We hope this inspired you to get outside and feel the health benefits for yourself! If you are a member of WellStyles through Valley Schools, join us for the Get Outside Challenge June 12th -23rd on WellStyles to track your progress! Get outside for 6 of the 12 days (but ideally all of them) to earn an additional 200 points to your wellness program. Registration for the challenge opens June 7th.
1- Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., & Roe, J. (2015). The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British journal of sports medicine, 49(4), 272–276. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877
2 – Martin, L., White, M. P., Hunt, A., Richardson, M., Pahl, S., & Burt, J. (2020). Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 68, 101389.
3 – Tsao, T. M., Tsai, M. J., Hwang, J. S., Cheng, W. F., Wu, C. F., Chou, C. K., & Su, T. C. (2018). Health effects of a forest environment on natural killer cells in humans: an observational pilot study. Oncotarget, 9(23), 16501–16511. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.24741