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Nature's Healing Power: The Mental Health Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Spending time outside is beneficial for our well-being. Whether it's a leisurely walk in the park, sitting on a bench and appreciating nature, or engaging in activities like swimming or hiking, we should make an effort to enjoy the great outdoors more often. Our minds and bodies will appreciate it.

Most individuals tend to spend the majority of their time indoors. According to various studies, it is estimated that about 90% of the day, or even higher (92% in some cases), is spent inside. On average, this means we spend approximately 22 hours indoors every day, with only two hours or less allocated to being outside. Surprisingly, some reports suggest that certain individuals spend as little as 15 minutes outdoors daily, excluding their commuting time.

Moreover, the amount of time spent indoors has been increasing over the years. Between 2017 and 2022, people in the UK confessed to spending nearly 11 additional hours indoors each week. This includes time spent in offices, shops, homes, cars, or public transportation. Common reasons cited for this trend include attempts to save money, the convenience of online shopping, and the growing prevalence of remote work.

It's no surprise that being outside brings us genuine happiness. In fact, government data supports this notion, with a whopping 85% of adults agreeing that being in nature makes them happy. The impact of natural light and fresh air on our mood is backed by scientific evidence. Specifically, natural sunlight plays a significant role in increasing serotonin production in our brains. This boost in serotonin helps regulate our moods and makes us feel uplifted. Simply spending time outdoors and absorbing even a small amount of sunlight can elevate our mood and re-energize us.

Unsurprisingly, a significant majority of adults (91%) acknowledged the positive impact of green and natural spaces on mental health and overall well-being. The serene ambiance created by the smells, sounds, and sights of the outdoors can be incredibly soothing for the mind and has been correlated with improved mental health. Stepping outside allows us to reconnect with nature and our surroundings, offering a much-needed respite from the pressures of daily life.

One of the key reasons behind the surge of happiness experienced when spending more time outdoors is its stress-reducing ability. Simply immersing ourselves in nature and basking in sunlight can lead to a reduction in cortisol levels—the hormone released in response to stress. Natural environments evoke a sense of tranquility while also encouraging physical activity, which enhances well-being by triggering the release of endorphins, the mood-regulating and energy-boosting chemicals. Embracing the outdoors not only instills a sense of calm but also promotes overall mental and physical well-being.

The profound impact of spending more time outdoors extends beyond immediate well-being, positively influencing our overall life satisfaction. Surprisingly, there is a specific timeframe that correlates with improved health and happiness.

A study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports reveals that individuals who dedicated two to three hours per week to being in nature were approximately 20% more likely to report high overall life satisfaction compared to those who remained indoors. This suggests that a modest investment of time in the great outdoors can significantly enhance our happiness and contentment with life.

In addition to the positive emotions and improved moods derived from spending time outdoors, another remarkable benefit is the ability to gain clarity and perspective. Older research introduced the Attention Restoration Theory, which suggests that exposure to nature and outdoor environments enhances our capacity for concentration.

It's evident that stepping outside, away from screens and other distractions, offers the brain an opportunity to recharge and reset, allowing creative thoughts to flourish. Immersing ourselves in nature opens the door to an expanded mental clarity and a heightened sense of inspiration. We emerge feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to embrace new ideas.

If you're tired of catching colds and feeling unwell, here's another compelling reason to step outside. Spending time in the great outdoors can help optimize your immune system's functionality. Surprisingly, living in entirely sterile environments isn't actually beneficial for our health. We need exposure to "safe" levels of microorganisms to allow our immune systems to practice and prepare for more serious infections. This exposure enables our bodies to develop the ability to distinguish between harmful and harmless substances and respond accordingly, strengthening our immune defenses. By embracing outdoor living, we give our immune systems the chance to thrive and safeguard our well-being.

Living in urban areas may create a perception that connecting with nature is more challenging, but that's not the case. Enjoying and reaping the benefits of the great outdoors doesn't require vast open landscapes or encountering rare wildlife.

It's easy to overlook the fact that a whole world exists just beyond your window. Take a moment to observe, and you'll start noticing greenery and wildlife even in the most densely populated urban environments. Appreciating the natural elements around you can be incredibly rewarding. For instance, simply observing birds in a garden can enhance feelings of well-being, relaxation, and a sense of connection to nature. Even in the midst of city living, a thriving outdoor world awaits, ready to enrich your life.

To cultivate new healthy habits, it's crucial to find enjoyment in them. The key is to genuinely relish your time spent outdoors, as that will be the driving force behind doing it more frequently. Luckily, there is a vast array of outdoor activities that cater to diverse interests and bring you closer to nature. Here are some inspiring ideas:

  1. Hiking: Explore scenic trails and immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes.

  2. Mountain biking or cycling: Experience the thrill of pedaling through rugged terrains or picturesque paths.

  3. Canoeing or kayaking: Navigate tranquil waters and discover hidden gems.

  4. Horse riding: Connect with nature as you embark on a horseback adventure.

  5. Bird watching: Observe the fascinating avian world and deepen your appreciation for feathered friends.

  6. Wildlife spotting: Seek out and observe the captivating wildlife that thrives in natural habitats.

  7. Wild swimming: Dive into refreshing natural bodies of water and revel in the serenity.

  8. Gardening: Cultivate your own green oasis, fostering a deep connection with the earth.

  9. Fishing: Engage in the tranquil art of fishing while enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

  10. Surfing or windsurfing: Ride the waves and feel the exhilaration of riding nature's energy.

  11. Climbing: Scale new heights and challenge yourself in natural rock formations.

  12. Running: Lace up your shoes and explore the outdoors while engaging in an invigorating run.

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