“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
John Muir penned his outdoor anthem long before there was #optoutside, but his words may be more relevant today than ever. A 2001 EPA study found that Americans spent more than 90 percent of their time indoors due to factors such as urbanization, technological advancement, and demanding work schedules. And these statistics were published before smart devices consumed our fidget society.
How Can Nature Help Me?
Heaps of data reveal the impact of hunkering down inside four walls. But they also shed light on the benefits of getting outside. For those of us who are on the fence about getting out there, here are five reasons that add some incentive.
1. Nature Reduces Risk for Depression
As more people have been moving to cities, there’s been an uptick in reported anxiety and depression. Stanford researchers think that decreased exposure to nature ties the two together. Lead investigator on the Stanford study, Gregory Bratman, measured brain activity of individuals who went for a 90-minute nature walk compared to a control group who took a 90-minute urban walk.
The study found that those who walked through quiet, green spaces exhibited a decrease in brain activity in an area linked to depression and other mental illnesses. Furthermore, “green exercise,” or exercising outside, has been shown to increase self-esteem and put you in a better mood.
Takeaway: Want to be happier? Visit green spaces.
2. Nature Improves Short-Term Memory
Walking in a natural setting not only reduces depression, but it can also improve your short-term memory by 20 percent! Your memory would also benefit from you getting sufficient sleep and eating a balanced diet.
Takeaway: Having trouble concentrating? Get outside.
3. The Sun Heals
We all know that the sun provides warmth and lifts the spirits, but it is also a key to our physical health. Sun exposure produces vitamin D, which helps build strong bones.
Vitamin D also contributes to a healthy immune system, fighting colds, the flu, chronic disease, and even some types of cancer. Natural light has also been linked to less pain and better sleep, especially in aging populations.
Takeaway: Spending time outdoors helps you live a long and healthy life. Enjoy the sunshine! (Just make sure to do so responsibly.)
4. Nature Increases Creativity
Just like manual labor can cause physical fatigue, a desk jockey gig can bring on “mental fatigue,” making it harder to organize our thoughts and solve analytical problems.
Proponents of attention restoration theory (ART) have long suggested that exposure to nature’s “soft fascinations” – slow-moving clouds, babbling brooks, and rustling leaves – helps the body recover from daily stressors.
And a study (published in 2012) shows disconnecting from media and devices can increase creative problem solving by a whopping 50 percent! These returns were noticed after four days in the wild.
But you don’t have to deplete your PTO bank to see effects. Even taking time to look at pictures of nature has reputed benefits.
Takeaway: Take time to smell the flowers – it pays dividends!
5. Natural Light Prevents Nearsightedness
Contrary to what our parents said, we didn’t get bad eyes from sitting too close to the TV. We likely inherited it from them.
An article published in Investigative Ophthalmic & Visual Science shows that exposure to natural light can reduce the risk of needing corrective surgery for nearsightedness.
The evidence suggests that bright, natural light helps the eye focus on objects more clearly, promoting healthy eye development. Already have bad eyes? Sorry, it doesn’t work retroactively.
Takeaway: Get your kids outside early and often.
Simple Ways To Get More Time Outside
REI recently created a quiz you can take to see if you spend more time outdoors than the typical American. Check it out to see where you rank. Regardless of where you’re at now, everyone benefits from heading outdoors. And it doesn’t need to be difficult. Here are some quick tips to reap the benefits of nature.
- Take a break. There’s evidence that taking even as little as five minutes a day outside can bring a positive change.
- Go for a walk, preferably in the park.
- Get a window seat at the office. Can’t get out? Even looking at pictures of greenery has been reported to reduce stress.
- Bring the outside in with potted plants at home and in the office.
- Don’t let winter slow you down. New seasons mean new gear! Take up winter sports like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding.
- Need more ideas or a place to start? Check out REI’s classes and their list of 95 ways to spend more time outside.
Looks like old-man Muir was onto something after all. Spending time in the woods is good for the mind, body, and soul.