It’s hard to miss the movement sweeping the country right now aiming to get more people outside. With depression and anxiety on the rise, healthcare providers are looking for new solutions. What they’re coming up with takes us back to the very basics: getting outside makes you feel better.
In a recent Outside Magazine article “The Nature Cure,” the author mentions there are more than 485 studies that link time in nature to better health. The article states, “Research institutes for nature and health are opening at major medical centers, electronic medical-record systems have begun to incorporate nature prescriptions just as they do pharmacological ones, and at least one major health insurer has begun offering incentives for nature prescriptions.” Doctors who are prescribing nature time are seeing great benefits for their patients.
If you’re like most Americans, you spend most of your time inside, even though you too probably feel better when you’re outside.
We’re big proponents of finding ways to spend more time outside, but we know finding more time isn’t easy. So how can you get the most benefit from your time spent outdoors? Here are a few suggestions.
Just getting outside is good for you, but it’s even better when you pair physical activity with it. The University of Essex’s “Green Exercise” research department has looked at links between green exercise and stress, mental health and cognitive function. The treadmill is fine, but getting outside for a run is much better. Even a daily lunchtime walk outside can do wonders for your mood and wellbeing.
Hop On A Bike
Adding just 30 minutes of biking a few times a week to your schedule might make your brain work better. This recent study also looked at the difference between e-bikes and regular bikes and found little difference. Whether you’re on a bike that helps you get up the hills or not, you’re going to get the benefits. We love biking because it’s a beautiful way to see the world while covering a lot of ground.
Go Forest Bathing
You may have heard of forest bathing, which comes from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku. Forest bathing has nothing to do with getting your heart rate up, yet it still has real health benefits. Qing Li, who wrote the book on Forest Bathing, says “The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees.” Think outdoor meditation. Even better, Qing Li says it can be done anywhere there are trees -- you don’t have to have a full-on forest.
Get Your Kids Outside
Getting the kids outside to get their energy out is a tried and true parenting tactic. But in addition to giving you a break, getting your kids outside might also make them happier later in life. A Danish study found that children raised in proximity to nature and green spaces had a lower incidence of mental health issues as adults. The whole family will fare better after a day spent playing outside.
Bask in the Sunshine
In the dark winter months without access to much sunlight, many of us turn to Vitamin D supplements. But the benefits of getting sunlight go far beyond just this vitamin. In a recent article about sunscreen and sun exposure in Outside Magazine, Rowan Jacobsen writes, “Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.”
Make It Easy
Programs like Park Rx America aim to make it easier for people to get outside by sharing locations of nearby green spaces. The more you can simplify the process for yourself, the more likely you are to get outside. Try scheduling time on your calendar to get outside everyday, making outdoor plans with a friend, or walking or biking somewhere instead of driving. And if not having the right gear for a hike is a concern, Merino wool base layers can help you prepare for a variety of outdoor conditions.
Regardless of the activity or the type of nature you choose, getting outside is likely to deliver good short and long term health effects. Make a plan this season to reap the benefits.
While hundreds of studies have connected spending time in nature to better health, no long term clinical studies have been conducted yet. Always talk with your physician to see what’s right for you.