Need an excuse to get out of the house? Research continues to demonstrate that being outside and experiencing nature can improve our mental health and increase our ability to focus.
Many of us are in front of a screen for much of our day — whether that be a computer, TV, or smartphone. As a result, we spend less time outside experiencing the natural world. Here are some reasons why we all can benefit from taking a nature break.
1. Nature can help us improve our thinking, reasoning, and other mental abilities
When we're in urban environments or the office all day, we can experience sensory overload, resulting in tension and mental fatigue. Studies have shown that our minds and bodies relax in a natural setting. This increases feelings of pleasure and can help us concentrate and focus more effectively, according to studies in the National Library of Medicine.
Being outdoors can also have relaxing effects on our minds. Nature can provide a mental break by allowing us to temporarily escape the demands of everyday life. It can also boost your creativity and problem-solving abilities. For example, if you're having a mental block writing a paper or can't seem to solve a problem at work, step outside for a breath of fresh air. Take an easy walk around your neighborhood or office, and you just might find the answers you were looking for.
2. Nature can improve physical wellness
Getting out into nature can lead us to want to walk, bike, hike, or kayak more often. People typically engage in regular physical activity when they're in nature. So, stepping outside can help you keep a healthy weight or even lose weight by increasing activity levels.
Studies have also shown that being in nature has a positive effect on our bodies by reducing cortisol levels, muscle tension, and demands on our cardiovascular systems (lowers heart rate and blood pressure). Being out in nature often may lead to lower rates of heart disease. The great outdoors can also help you increase your vitamin D level, which is important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system.
3. Being outside can improve your mental health
Nature can help decrease your anxiety levels and can help lessen stress and feelings of anger. Exercise can also help this, but it's even better when you're outside.
Regular access to green spaces has been linked to lower risks of depression and improved concentration and attention. Being outside allows us to be social and come together with family, friends, or even people you don't know who are also looking for a great hiking trail, for example.
Additionally, you may find that you sleep better when you are regularly outside. Daily exposure to natural light helps regulate sleep/wake cycles. By making sure that you get outside in sunlight every day, you can improve your ability to sleep at night.
Nature can also have benefits for children. One study in Denmark examined 900,000 residents born between 1985 and 2003. They found that children who lived in neighborhoods with more green space had a reduced risk of mental disorders later in life.
Learn more about how nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our thinking
Read more from Cultivating Health: 10 health benefits of meditation and how to focus on mindfulness
Other related benefits to being in nature
There are some positive health impacts related to getting outdoors. You can learn more about these in the research summary from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They include the following:
- People who live near parks and green space have less mental distress, are more physically active, and have longer life spans.
- Exposure to nature may decrease death from chronic disease.
- When people exercise outdoors in nature, they do so for longer periods of time and at greater intensities.
- Positive health effects are enhanced when green space includes water.
Simple outdoor exercises if you're short on time
If you have a busy schedule and don't have much time to get outside, these may help you get a quick nature fix:
- 5 minutes: Stand outside with the sun on your face or take off your shoes to feel the grass in between your toes. If the weather isn't great, take a few minutes to gaze out a window at the scenery outside.
- 25 minutes: Go out for a stroll and take some deep breaths. You could even eat your lunch outside or take a phone call or meeting outdoors.
Other fun ideas to experience nature
- Plan a picnic with friends or family. Find a park or green space to enjoy a meal and maybe take a frisbee or soccer ball.
- Rent a kayak or canoe on a nearby waterway.
- Find a hiking trail you've never been to.
- Dust off your bicycle and go for an easy ride around the neighborhood.
- Take your dog for a walk to a nearby park — they'll enjoy it just as much as you will.
- Grab a book and find a shady tree to sit under.
- Plant a vegetable or flower garden in your yard or on your patio.
- Take up golfing with a friend or family member.
- Meet up with a neighbor or friend to walk daily or weekly.
- Go bird watching at a nearby state park or wildlife habitat.
More articles on why the great outdoors is good for your health
- 8 health benefits of getting back to nature and spending time outside (Healthline)
- The wellness benefits of the great outdoors (U.S. Forest Service)
- Health benefits of getting outside (WebMD)
- Nurtured by nature (American Psychological Association)
- Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)