11 Reasons To Start Spending More Time Outside

We should take wandering outdoor walks so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.
— Seneca

Maybe you’re one of those people that don’t have much use for nature. It’s too hot. Or too cold. There are too many bugs, or, worse yet, scary creatures that leer at you as if you’re nothing but a piece of meat.

You prefer the city, with it’s fancy restaurants and tastefully appointed shops. Where you can walk around without worrying about sullying your shiny shoes or be swarmed by blood-thirsty insects.

My advice to you: get over it, before it’s too late. As Florence Williams warns in The Nature Fix, recent research demonstrates that the near-constant stress of urban living changes the human brain in ways that are likely to increase the odds of schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders.

While there’s a small chance that nature will kill you there are much better odds that it will heal you in ways that might be surprising. Read on for my 11 reasons to start spending more time outside.

Five hours a month is all it takes.

  1. It reduces stress: a 2010 study showed that “forest bathing,” or immersing oneself in nature (known in Japan as Shinrin-yoku) promotes lower concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nervous system activity, and lower sympathetic nervous sytem activity than spending a similar amount of time in an urban environment.

  2. It increases Vitamin D: according to research done in 2009, nearly 75% of teens and adults are deficient in Vitamin D. Deficiencies in Vitamin D have been linked to all kinds of bad health outcomes, including increased risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Luckily, Vitamin D deficiency is easy to remedy; just get outside, in the sun, for 15-20 minutes per day. It’s not called the “sunshine vitamin” for nothing!

  3. It helps you sleep: regular exposure to sunlight helps your body regulate hormones like melatonin and supports your natural circadian rhythm. If you don’t have enough melatonin or your body’s natural rhythms are disrupted than your sleep is likely to suffer. A St. Louis University School of Medicine study found that people need to get 30-60 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight for sleep patterns to improve.

  4. You will move more: studies consistently show that when you exercise outdoors you exert more energy and burn more calories than if you ride a stationary bike or run on a treadmill. Other studies show that people enjoy outdoor exercise more than than exercising indoors, leading to longer and more vigorous exercise sessions.

  5. It improves attention and memory: a University of Michigan study found that even a short walk in the park improved short-term memory by 20%, while a University of Illinois study showed that even 20 minutes of interacting with nature improved focus in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder better

  6. It gives you more energy and vitality: several studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology demonstrate that time spent outdoors, in nature, is associated with greater vitality. Other studies have shown that even looking at pictures of nature helps boost mood.

  7. It makes you happier: time spent outside naturally boosts levels of serotonin, the “feel good” neurostransmitter, according to several studies. The amount of sunlight, it appears, directly correlates with serotonin levels, which can reduce symptoms of depression and enhance well-being.

  8. Air pollution can be worse inside than outside: research indicates that we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. This is troubling when you consider that the air inside our homes and offices can be more polluted than the air outside, even in the most industrialized cities. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the concentration of certain common organic pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside.

  9. It boosts immunity: “forest bathing” studies have shown that inhaling “phytoncides” — particles of a-pinene and limonene from the wood of forest trees —stimulates increased activity of natural killer cells.

  10. It boosts creativity: A University of Kansas study showed that people who spent just four days in nature, leaving their technology behind, were 50 percent better at finding creative solutions to problems. Talk about competitive advantage!

  11. It helps to remind us of who we are: spending time in the natural world, away from the screens and machines that increasingly threaten to dominate our waking life, reconnects us to our history as biological organisms and changes our relationship to the other inhabitants of our natural environment. Nature has the power to humble us, assuming we let it, with its infinite variety and vast scale.