Did you know that according to some estimates, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors? And sadly, that can be a real, measurable detriment to your mental and physical health.
All those moms and dads telling their kids to “go out and play” are onto something. Being outside is more than just a distraction, or a way for the grownups to get some peace. It has numerous, documented health benefits that it would be hard to achieve another way, improving everything from your mood to your immune system.
Find out how being outdoors can make a difference in your health and well being, and why it’s so important for you to spend more time with Mother Nature.
It’s not just feel-good hoopla. There’s real science to back the claim that being outdoors boosts creativity. In one study, researchers administered a creative test to a group of people before and after spending a few days backpacking and hiking outdoors. What did they find? After being outdoors, the backpackers scored 50% higher on creative tasks.
Why? Turns out your brain really does need a chance to disconnect – from technology, and from the stresses and pressures of everyday life.
You’ve probably heard of people going on a “social media diet”, or unplugging from phones and computers for several days at a time. That’s a good start, but it could be better. If you unplug *and* get outdoors into nature, you’re giving yourself the time and mental space to refocus and think more clearly.
In another study, people were split into two groups. Those who unplugged and used their time to relax in an urban environment, and those who unplugged and spent time out in nature. Guess which group performed better on creative tasks afterwards?
If you guessed the nature group, you’re right. It seems that we humans have a special connection with the natural world that really matters. Being outdoors engages your attention in an entirely different way and can change your thought processes so that you can approach a task or problem more creatively.
You’ve probably heard that the sun is a great source of Vitamin D. That’s true – in a roundabout way. Sunlight actually triggers a series of chemical reactions that start in your skin, and progress to your liver and kidneys as your body converts those Ultraviolet B rays into Vitamin D.
Not only is sun exposure our primary source of Vitamin D, but it’s almost the *only* natural source, at least in sufficient enough quantities to give us what we need.
In fact, 90% of our Vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun. And Vitamin D has been shown to have immunological benefits against osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
If you hear the word *sun* and *exposure* in the same sentence and your heart skips a beat as you worry about sunscreen and skin cancer, you can relax. You don’t need a marathon baking session to get the benefits of the sun. Ten to fifteen minutes each day with your arms and legs exposed is typically enough to supply you with all the Vitamin D you need.
Sure, you could take a supplement. But isn’t spending time outdoors on a gorgeous summer day a lot more fun?
Reduces Anxiety And Depression
This one goes hand-in-hand with immunity. You probably already know that stress hormones can wreck havoc with your health. In fact, too much can lower your immunity, not to mention put you at risk for all sorts of ailments, from high blood pressure and fertility problems, to heartburn and insomnia.
You may also have been told that exercise reduces anxiety and depression, and it’s true. But studies have shown that there’s a notable difference – and improvement – in people’s mood when they exercise outdoors instead of in a gym.
Sunlight does more than just boost Vitamin D levels. It also helps keep your serotonin levels up, the chemical famous for keeping anxiety and depression in check.
But nature’s effects on mood go even beyond that. Numerous studies have found that for people suffering from depression, a walk in a natural environment significantly reduces symptoms compared to a walk in an urban environment, an indoor walk in a mall, or medication alone.
In fact – if you need more convincing – the same study found that people who walked indoors in a mall setting were *more* depressed afterwards. So much for shopping therapy!
The fact is, nature helps us disconnect from everyday stressors – whether that’s too much screen time, too much consumerism, or just too much stimulation – and reconnect with our own inner selves and peace.
Leads To Better Relationships
If this one sounds a little “out there”, you’re in for a surprise. Not only does being in nature lesses anxiety in general, but it also lessens social anxiety, making it easier to engage with other people and even easier to let small irritations slide.
But that’s not all. Researchers have found that residents who live in communities where there are more green spaces knew more people, had a stronger sense of belonging, and were more helpful and supportive of their neighbors compared with residents in more traditional urban spaces.
Even more significant, there was an improved ability to cope with life’s stressors, which went hand in hand with lower levels of crime and aggression.
Science bears this out. In studies using fMRI to measure brain activity, the parts of the brain associated with love and empathy lit up when people viewed nature scenes. When they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety lit up.
It’s not surprising, then, to learn that too much time indoors, attached to computers, televisions and phone screens, leads to a loss in empathy and altruism.
The good news is that getting outside and spending time in your gardens, beside your pond, or simply enjoying the natural view can restore your connection with the greater world and your fellow human beings.
Enhances Cognitive Ability
By now you won’t be at all surprised to learn that being outdoors in nature can do everything from improve your memory and concentration to reduce symptoms of ADHD and dementia.
In one study, children diagnosed with ADHD were either taken on a walk through nature, or on a walk through the area’s downtown. Unsurprisingly, the children were better able to focus, better able to concentrate and demonstrated improved working memory skills after a walk in the park vs. a downtown environment.
In other studies, dementia patients in adult care facilities showed improved cognitive abilities and fewer incidents of aggressive behavior when they became engaged in gardening and outdoor activities.
And intelligence tests suggest that connecting with nature improves our ability to understand complex environments, pay attention to details and perform better on tasks that require advanced reasoning skills.
Imagine if all it took to get your kids to do better in school, or to deal with that annoying work problem, was to get outside and play more! We bet that’s something you can get behind.
Heightens Overall Quality Of Life
As anyone who has spent an afternoon sitting beside a koi pond or elbow-deep in a tomato garden will tell you, a beautiful natural environment just makes you happy.
Being outdoors in a natural environment creates a sense of gratitude and mindfulness that is truly unique. It instills hopefulness, improves self-esteem, increases satisfaction with life, and even reduces pain.
Natural landscapes, especially those with water, are inherently soothing. Even hospital patients have been shown to heal more quickly and experience fewer side effects from surgeries when exposed to a beautiful view.
If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), spending time outside in your gardens and viewing your natural landscape can lessen its severity, even on cold winter days. That makes an excellent case for a four-season garden!
Nature is also a free source of aromatherapy. Skip the expensive oils of questionable origin. There are myriad scents right in your own garden that can uplift, relax, and bring you serenity and a smile.
There are so many benefits to spending time outdoors, whether you’re actively engaging or simply sitting and absorbing – that we can’t cover them all here. But chances are, whether you want inspiration or relaxation, fun or serenity, a good workout or a quiet afternoon, some time to disconnect or reconnect, you can find it as close as your own back yard.
If you want to get the most out of your outdoor space, contact us for a consultation and let us know. From soothing water features to comfortable entertaining spaces, we can build an environment that brings you all the joys and benefits that nature can offer.