Most Americans spend 90 percent of their lives indoors. It’s a shocking statistic. Add onto that our time in quarantine. All this time inside means we’re robbing ourselves of the many substantial health benefits of being outside. One of the best tools to improve one’s mind and body is at our disposal all the time—and it’s free.
Getting outdoors for at least 20 minutes each day is an easy way to improve your overall health. And now is the perfect time to take advantage of spring weather. Time outside is beneficial to your body in many ways, both physically and mentally. In fact, being outdoors is proven to calm your mind and offset stress.
"Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age," says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use."
Here are just a few reasons you should make time to get outside today.
1. Reduces Stress
Outdoor time is like a spa day for your brain. The sunshine increases blood flow to your brain and triggers the release of serotonin, the hormone that levels out our mood and provides feelings of well-being and happiness. Sunshine also enables your cells to communicate more efficiently. Overall, this process is shown to improve your mood and self-esteem—and lessen your stress and anxiety.
In 2015, researchers compared the brains of two sets of people who walked for 90 minutes—one group in a natural setting and the other in an urban one. Those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that’s active when experiencing the repetitive, negative thoughts that often accompany mental distress.
Studies have also shown that time in nature can give you a sense of belonging to the greater world, a concept that’s vital for mental health. One study found that nature excursions can help assuage feelings of stress and being pressed for time. The study’s participants reported an increase in feelings of life satisfaction, happiness, and mindfulness.
2. Increases Energy
Sure, walking and other physical movements will give you more energy no matter where you do them, but one study suggests being active outside compounds the positive effects. In fact, it found that being outside for just 20 minutes gave its participants the same amount of energy as a cup of coffee.
And because walking outside gives your prefrontal cortex a break, it’s also been shown to renew mental energy in the form of restored mental abilities like short-term memory.
3. Boosts Strength
It’s common knowledge that your body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun. But did you know that vitamin D helps to actually make you stronger? That’s right. It helps your body absorb calcium, which then strengthens your muscles, bones, teeth, nails and more. Soaking in the sun for just two hours a week will provide your weekly recommended intake.
And in case you were wondering, yes your body can still produce vitamin D when you have on sunscreen—like our SPF Essentials—so don’t forget to apply it before going in the sun.
4. Enhances Immune Response
Vitamin D from being in the sun has also been shown to help increase muscle recovery and even help wounds and broken bones heal faster. That’s not all. Researchers have found an increased immune function from organic compounds called phytoncides that many plants put into the air. Fun fact: This is why many have espoused the benefits of “forest bathing,” a practice that originated in Japan where you mindfully immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of a forest setting.
Additionally, researchers have found that direct sunlight energizes your T cells, which identify and help fight infections in your bloodstream.
5. Elevates Your Mood
Fresh air can do a lot for your mood. The biggest boon? The release of serotonin. It helps raise your energy and regulate your mood to keep you positive and focused. This miracle hormone also helps with sleep and digestion.
Studies have also shown that natural scenes have a way of calming your nerves and gently capturing your attention rather than quickly demanding it, like your phone. Taking a walk in forests has been shown to fight depression and fend off the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
6. Helps with Creativity
Being outdoors has been shown to change your perception of the world and increase feelings such as awe, wonder, contentment, connection, and fun. It also frees up your attention span, allowing your brain to process more information. The end result is increased brain functionality and with that comes a boost of creativity.
The participants of one study took word-association tests before and after hiking for four days. The result showed an increase in creativity and problem-solving skills by up to 50 percent. Imagine what it can do for you.
Just 20 minutes outside today could help you in more ways than one. Get out there!!
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