During your childhood, the comforting embrace of the great outdoors may have been the only place you wanted to be. Maybe you couldn’t wait to wake up on a weekend morning or get home from school so you could flee from the indoors and explore that ditch behind your house, toss a ball in the park, or watch caterpillars inch across the sidewalk. Your mom probably had to beg and plead with you to come inside and eat dinner. Your body was constantly in motion. And you were doing what comes naturally to humans—spending time in nature.
Humans are inextricably connected to nature, yet, according to calculations published by the Environmental Protection Agency, most Americans spend 90 percent of their lives indoors. It’s no secret that being in nature can feel amazing, but scientific research is catching up to what humans have intuitively felt all along—you need to get outside. For so many people, spending time in nature is the exception rather than the rule. Sure, the annual camping trip is wonderful, but what you really need to do is integrate outdoor time into your daily life.
From improved mental health to heightened creativity, here are five reasons why nature is the new prescription for optimal health and well-being.
1. Improves Physical Health
You may have heard of doctors writing prescriptions for healthy foods and exercise, and now they’re scribbling down something else on those prescription pads—spending time outdoors. Exercise aside, getting outside means you’ll spending time in the sunshine. Soaking up the sun allows your body to make vitamin D, which helps protect against osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. And there’s more. In 2013, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that sun exposure also helps your body produce nitric oxide, a compound that lowers blood pressure.
2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Want to improve your mood and ease anxiety and depression? Get outside! According to the National Academy of Science, people who walk in natural outdoor environments showed lower levels of depression. Though it may not be feasible to traipse through the woods or stroll along a beach every day, this study underscores the importance of incorporating mini outdoor adventures into your life. A walk in your local park will do the trick.
When you can, make an effort to spend time in a truly natural environment to relax and reduce stress. In Japan, this concept is known as forest bathing, which involves exposing yourself to the sights and sounds of the forest. This practice has been shown to elicit relaxation, lower cortisol levels, slow pulse rates, and reduce blood pressure.
3. Recharges Your Battery
Ever come back from a weekend jaunt to the mountains and feel totally rejuvenated, even if you’ve got sore legs from a long hike? That’s because simply spending time in Mother Nature can revitalize you. Several studies published by the Journal of Environmental Psychology demonstrated that spending time outdoors for as little as 20 minutes per day makes people feel more alive. This makes perfect sense, since nature is alive, with trees and critters and the elements. Your environment rubs off on you, so being in the presence of so much life makes you more conscious of the life inside each and every human being.
4. Boosts Creativity
What’s the best thing you can do if you’re having trouble finding inspiration for a creative task or trying to solve a complex problem? Get outside and take a walk. This will shift your perspective, get your blood flowing, and get your creative juices moving. A University of Kansas study showed that people who disconnected from technology and spent just four days in nature were 50 percent better at finding creative solutions to problems.
5. Adds Variety to Your Exercise Routine
Given the choice, most people would prefer to walk along a beautiful trail than hop on a treadmill inside of a gym. Maybe the gym is part of your fitness routine and, if so, great! Exercise of any kind is wonderful for you. But when you can, exercise outside to change up your routine. Almost any gym exercise can be replicated outdoors with just a little creativity. And if you’re spending more time outdoors, you’re going to be extra creative!
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I live in the middle of a city. What am I to do?” Keep it simple. Walk, read, or frolic in a nearby park with plenty of greenery. Meander through your local farmers market, walk your dog, walk your kids to or from school, sit on your balcony and read a book, garden, or ride your bike to work. The opportunities are limitless!
So go on, get out there. Feel the earth beneath your feet and the wind in your face, smell the flowers in your neighborhood, and listen to the birds chirping. And let nature nurture your mind, body, and soul.