People often remark that they feel so much better after spending time outdoors, especially in the sunshine or in a place of great natural beauty. As it turns out, this commonplace response can be explained by genuine health benefits provided by being outdoors. Here are eight of the most compelling reasons why you should take the time to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the daylight.
1. It enhances concentration
The next time you’re struggling to focus on a task, try taking a walk. Although you might intuitively think of this approach as a form of procrastination, studies on concentration show that you may return from your time outside feeling ready to get back to work. Young and old alike stand to benefit in this way, as fascinating new research shows that children with attention deficit disorder are much more capable of focusing after a mere 20-minute walk through the countryside.
2. It may help your body fight disease
When you marvel at the ocean or gaze down from the top of a mountain, this increased appreciation of the world is linked to physical changes that influence the immune system function. In particular, when you feel stunned and inspired by something breathtakingly gorgeous, you will test as having lower levels of cytokines. These are markers of inflammation that are linked to diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis when produced in excess. In addition, recent Swedish research suggests that being able to view trees from a hospital window actually increases a person’s rate of recovery.
3. It will give you a boost of energy
A range of independent studies has confirmed that being exposed to nature leads people to give their feelings of vitality a higher score. In fact, the outside world is so powerful in this respect than merely viewing images of beautiful locations leads participants to report greater levels of energy. Whether these benefits are caused by the increased sensory stimulation offered by the great outdoors, a change in air quality or a more intimate connection with other forms of life, it’s clear that going for a brisk walk in a pretty location could help you overcome morning grogginess or an afternoon slump.
4. It increases creativity
A researcher working on cognition and neural science at the University of Utah has discovered that spending just four days trekking outdoors can as much as double a person’s creativity. This scientist theorizes that the everyday tendency to constantly multitask actually overtaxes parts of the brain that end up suppressing artistic and inventive thoughts.
5. It helps you cope with stress
As many who are accustomed to trying to “walk off” feelings of anger or sadness will know, there’s something about spending time outside that seems to reduce stress levels. Recently, researchers designed an experiment to test this observation, showing people a movie depicting a series of accidents and then showing half of the group some images of nature (while the others looked at pictures of a cityscape). The people who looked at the images from nature reliably showed diminished signs of physical stress more quickly than those who looked at urban photography. Consequently, it’s plausible to suspect that spending time outdoors may also boost heart health by lowering blood pressure.
6. It can regulate your biological clock
If you go outside at dusk or when it’s already dark, this will help to ensure that your biological clock reflects the real time of day. Meanwhile, spending all day inside with the lights on and the blinds closed can be deeply confusing for your body. Darkness triggers the production of the hormone melatonin, which not only increases the chances of restful sleep but also may help to protect women from estrogen imbalances associated with breast cancer.
7. It makes you happier
As well as encouraging you to experience a greater sense of vitality, being outside seems to enhance your mood. For example, researchers investigating how the environment influences response to exercise have repeatedly found that people feel much better about themselves and much more optimistic after even a short outdoor exercise session. Similarly, one study tracked the mental well-being of participants for more than five years and discovered that their mental health was enhanced for up to three years if they moved to a greener area. It’s also worth noting that inhaling the phytoncides released by trees and plans helps to slow heart rate, calm breathing and reduce anxiety.
8. It may even increase your lifespan
Over the course of half a decade, Japanese scientists investigated the influence of living area on longevity. The most fascinating thing they discovered was that elderly people who were close to green areas (like parks and forests) were less likely to die during the five year period. This result did not appear to be influenced by social class, relationship status or financial situation, suggesting it really does relate to being able to readily access the outdoors.