Are you the type of person who spends every waking minute outdoors, come rain or shine? Or do you have to be persuaded to leave the comfort of home to take your dog for a walk or the kids to the park?
Whichever type you are, once you’ve read this article on the benefits of spending time outdoors, you’ll either be even more in love with nature or be a convert to outdoor pursuits!
Come with us on an exploration of the physical, mental and emotional benefits of venturing outdoors and follow our tips on how to get the most out of your time outside. Exploring nature will soon become part of your regular wellbeing routine, offering you a whole world of opportunities to boost your health and enhance your wellbeing.
The outdoors as a tonic: the evidence
It’s not just hearsay: there is plenty of evidence that proves the link between spending time outdoors and wellbeing.
A review carried out in 2018 of 143 studies involving over 290 million people in 20 countries (1) found numerous and wide-ranging health benefits. These included improved heart rate and blood pressure and protection against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and asthma, to name just a few.
Being outside is good for your mental wellbeing, too. A recent study involving hundreds of participants (2) compared the mental health of people who participated in group nature walks with that of those who did not. It found that time spent walking outdoors countered the stresses and strains of everyday life, and it suggested that promoting such activities would have a positive effect on mental health.
The idea that being in nature is good for you is now a well-established concept the world over. Doctors in the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland prescribe nature as part of patients’ treatment plans. The “Nature Prescriptions” scheme, in association with wildlife charity the RSPB, involves health professionals explaining the link between wellbeing and the outdoors to patients and offering them a leaflet with ideas of how to access nature at different times of year.
A similar scheme was recently launched in Adelaide to kick-start 2021. The programme involves offering sessions to connect people with nature through talks, tours and activities with the aim of improving overall health and wellbeing. It targets people with diabetes, obesity, anxiety, depression and low mood in a bid to improve their health the natural way.
So not only is the evidence out there that nature is a great healer, but using it as a treatment is also fast becoming the norm. It’s evidence-based and shows tangible results fast. Let’s find out more about the power of nature and what the benefits can do for you.
Tell me more about the benefits
Let’s take a closer look at some of the physical and mental benefits of venturing outdoors.
The physical benefits
Spending time outside performs many important roles in keeping your body in good health by:
- Lowering your body’s inflammation levels, helping to reduce your susceptibility to disease
- Reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases
- Lowering cortisol, the stress hormone
- Reducing cholesterol
- Slashing your chances of developing type 2 diabetes
- Boosting your immune system
- Enabling your body to generate vitamin D, which is essential to keep your bones healthy, support your immune system and protect you against disease
The mental benefits
There are lots of benefits to your mental health, too. These include:
- Alleviating depression, including seasonal depression, low mood, stress and anxiety
- Boosting your creativity
- Improving your concentration
- Enhancing your short-term memory
- Increasing your alertness
- Stimulating your body’s production of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that make you feel happy
Give me some ideas for spending time outdoors
There are endless ways to enjoy the great outdoors, no matter what the season. Here are some examples of a few ideas to try that will not only boost your physical health but also bring you a sense of peace and wellbeing.
During the summer months, why not camp outdoors to make the most of the clement weather? As well as immersing yourself in the beauty of nature, you’ll find that sleeping outside will reset your body clock to a more natural state, promoting good-quality, refreshing sleep.
You may have heard of the term “forest bathing.” It’s a practice that originated in Japan and focuses not only on spending time in nature but also interacting with it in a meditative way.
Have a go yourself by finding a beautiful wood, forest or other scenic place. Switch off your devices and walk slowly through the environment. Engage all your senses, taking deep breaths and feeling your muscles relax as you do so. You can find a quiet spot to sit and take in nature. Try to dismiss thoughts about your everyday life and simply tune in to the here and now. You will come away from your session in a relaxed state, refreshed and ready to return to your life in a positive frame of mind.
Wild swimming involves swimming in any natural body of water such as the ocean, a lake or river. It adds an extra dimension by allowing you to observe nature and reap the rewards of being outdoors.
If you opt for wild swimming, take care to follow some basic safety rules. Don’t swim alone. Know the weather forecast before you embark on your trip to ensure you don’t get caught out somewhere with nowhere to shelter. And make sure you are properly dressed. If you’re swimming outside, the water temperature will be colder than that of a pool, so a wetsuit is a good choice. If the weather is on the chilly side, ensure you’re wrapped up in durable leggings, jumpers and beanies to guard against the cold as you travel to and from your swimming location.
Gardening is an outdoor pursuit that everyone can enjoy. Digging, mowing the grass and tending to your garden will give you a physical workout, as well as elevate your mood and boost your emotional wellbeing outdoors. Remember that even if you live in an apartment with little outdoor space, you can still invest in some window boxes or pots for your balcony and take pleasure from growing flowers and plants to enjoy and herbs and vegetables to form part of a healthy diet.
Sharing your love of the outdoors with your kids
If you have children, the chances are it’s easier to entertain them outside than stuck at home. Make going outdoors an adventure – for them and you – with some fun activities.
How about a scavenger hunt? Give your kids a list of items to tick off on a sheet on your next trip to the park or nature reserve. Or devise a treasure hunt for them complete with clues and rewards.
Outdoor painting is a fun way to appreciate nature. Equip yourself with easels, paper and paints and get your kids to paint their surroundings. If you’re feeling arty, you can join in, too!
Geocaching is a cool way to enjoy the outdoors. It’s basically a treasure hunt using GPS that will lead you to objects hidden outside with the help of clues. Not just entertaining for kids, it will keep the grown-ups amused, too!
Once night falls, take your kids out to stargaze. With a little research, you’ll be surprised at what you can see with the naked eye or just a pair of binoculars. And, you’ll soon be hooked on this fascinating hobby.
No time outdoors is wasted
Spending time outdoors is not just a hobby but a way of life for many, and you can see why. Offering numerous benefits for body and soul, outdoor time is something we should all incorporate into our wellbeing routine.
And remember that no time outdoors is wasted. Even the simplest of activities – running around the park with your kids, taking a walk or simply sitting and enjoying nature – will boost your mental and physical wellbeing.
If you’re a newcomer to the outdoors life, you can work yourself up to more adventurous activities. In fact, you’ll soon find it hard to stay away from the great outdoors and all the pleasures it can bring!
(1) Twohig-Bennett C, Jones A. ‘The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes,’ Environmental Research, 2018 Oct;166:628-637.
(2) Marselle M, Warber S, Irvine K. ‘Growing resilience through interaction with nature: can group walks in nature buffer the effects of stressful life events on mental health?’ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019 Mar 19;16(6):986.