How Spending Time Outside Can Benefit Your Health
It’s a no-brainer during the summer — the sun is shining, the grill is lit, and everyone’s excited to spend some quality time outdoors. You can easily find activities to keep you occupied on the weekends when the weather is a consistent 75 degrees and sunny. But, with summer only a few months out of the year, the cold chill of the fall and the even colder temperatures of the winter creep up slowly, leaving you wanting to curl up under a blanket indoors. While you may be tempted to only roam out of the house during June, July, and August, it’s important for you to know that spending time outside is one of the best things you can do for your health, both physically and mentally.
Though you may look around your office, your living room, and your kitchen and think that you have everything you need to keep you happy right within arm’s reach (Netflix, a coffee machine, and snacks, for example), you may want to reconsider. There’s a reason that many of us feel so blue in the winter — we’re not outside as much, and being in nature keeps us mentally calm and can relieve us from the stresses of the day. Though we hold our material items near and dear to us, it’s being outside that can have a lasting impact on our mood and emotions.
According to Mercola, the average American spends 87% of their time inside of buildings and 6% of their time inside vehicles; in total, that means you’re only spending about 7% of your time outdoors. Not only can this much time spent indoors have repercussions for your mental health, but many pollutants concentrate indoors, leaving you more susceptible to illness. If you find that your incredibly busy schedule does not allow for much time outdoors, then there are a few things you can do to freshen up your living space and liven up your mood to receive some of the benefits that the outdoors has to offer.
Opening your windows is one of the easiest ways to purify your living space and avoid sickness. Even in the winter, the time of year that most of us would rather spend indoors, it’s best to leave a couple of windows open even just for 10 minutes to air out your home — consider doing this during the warmest part of the day. And, for a quick mood boost without leaving your indoor setting, you can try viewing pictures of the outdoors via your computer desktop or a picture of an outdoor setting on the wall of your home. This can significantly lower your stress levels and boost your mood.
Making small home adjustments is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to receiving health benefits from the outdoors, however, as it truly takes leaving your indoor space to have nature significantly affect your mental health. Health.com discusses a study performed by the University of Michigan that found that walks through nature have been linked to positive thinking and better mental health. Nature has restorative powers that can also help reduce your overall stress and anxiety levels, and you can experience a boost of mental energy just by taking a quick walk during a lunch break, or eating dinner at a picnic table instead of your typical dining room setting.
Whole 9 discusses how nature can actually restore your focus and willpower as well, further providing more reasons to get outside for your mental health. Because of the busy lives we lead in front of televisions, computers, business meetings, piles of paperwork, and even traffic jams, it’s easy for our brains to become drained of energy. In order for the brain to function fully and for you to not become mentally fatigued while trying to get important tasks finished, you must give your brain the opportunity to wind down and recharge. Natural environments are great for giving your brain a break from the constant stimulation of busy office environments, messy home environments, or urban settings.
As far as the physical benefits of the outdoors go, if you’re more of a treadmill runner or just generally someone who typically exercises indoors, you may also consider moving your workout outside during the warmer months, as doing more intense exercises outside of the gym has also been linked to better mental health, which in turn leads to less dread for those long runs. You’re likely to perform better during your workout when you move it out of the gym environment that you’re used to.
You’re also likely to find that when you exercise outdoors, you exercise differently than you would when you’re in your normal gym setting, and this can allow for different muscle usage. The New York Times discusses how runners typically flex their ankles differently when running outside, and they also run on different terrain and on hills, something that they may forget to adjust during their day-to-day treadmill workout. Working out outside tends to be more difficult than working out indoors as well — it takes more exertion to run outside than it does to run on the treadmill because of the lack of wind resistance and changing terrain, making your outdoor workout more challenging. This doesn’t just apply to runners, either — this applies to those who want to cycle or just walk as well.
Another study shared by The Huffington Post and performed by the University of Essex found that the color green makes exercise feel easier, and what better way to surround yourself with green than to surround yourself with grass, trees, and plants? The study asked cyclists to peddle in front of red, gray, and green images, and those peddling in front of the green images reported feeling less exhausted during their workout than those who peddled in front of the gray and red images. If you’re also looking to speed up your metabolism and shed pounds faster than your current rate, then consider hiking up mountains or picking up a winter sport that puts you at a higher altitude. Spending time at higher altitudes is known for speeding up your metabolism and reducing food cravings — you may think that you’ll get your best outdoor exercise in the summer, but you may burn the most calories skiing and snowboarding when you take this into consideration.
Nature offers more health benefits than many of us initially imagined — no matter what time of year, get out there and take advantage.