Top 6 Reasons to Get Outdoors 

Guest post by James Black, of Wilderness, Redefined.

Intro 

Life in the pandemic has been hard. Most of us have spent the best part of last year indoors, unable to get out and fully enjoy the great outdoors. 

But with the summer approaching and the vaccination program off to a good start, we all might be able to get out of our homes and into the wilderness soon. 

And there are loads of reasons to get out into the backcountry when you can again. There are so many benefits to our mental and physical health that nature can offer like improving your body’s ability to fight off disease. 

Here are my favorite six benefits the great outdoors can offer. 

1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s been a pretty stressful year. With the pandemic threatening so many people’s health and jobs, it’d be expected that a few of us have tossed and turned through some restless nights. 

Sleep hygiene has become a big trend in recent years as more people try to get a good night’s sleep. Your sleep hygiene refers to your sleep habits and bedtime routines. For example, drinking a big cup of coffee before bed would be BAD sleep hygiene. Using your phone in bed is another one. 

But the good news is that spending time outdoors can help you get a better night’s sleep. I actually started to look into the research behind this benefit after a camping trip in summer last year. 

Despite spending the weekend going for hikes, collecting firewood, and other activities that were way more strenuous than I had been used to for weeks, when I came home I felt rested and refreshed. I slept better for a few weeks, waking up earlier and sleeping more deeply (according to my smartwatch, anyway!). 

I decided to research whether this was a common side effect people felt from sleeping outdoors. I found studies that had demonstrated that spending time outdoors away from artificial light was good for keeping our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, ticking along steadily [1]. 

Our circadian rhythm controls when we sleep and eat (as well as things such as hormone production). Camping for just a weekend has been shown to adjust partWilderness icipants’ internal clock to a more consistent pattern that follows natural timing. 

So one of the benefits of camping is that it can help you get a better night’s sleep, but there are plenty of other boosts to your physical and mental wellbeing.

2. Build Up Your Immunity

Sleeping better isn’t the only benefit spending time outdoors can have. It can also help to boost your immune system. One of the ways this can happen is through phytoncides. 

Phytoncides are organic compounds produced by woodland areas that increase the activity and number of white blood cells that defend our immune system. 

Spending time in forests means you can breathe in these natural compounds and enjoy their benefits. Phytoncides can help kill tumor- or virus-infected cells in our bodies. 

One trip to a wooded area a month might be enough for you to get the benefits to your immune system. The research found that effects lasted for more than 30 days, so you don’t need to go live with the trees to get the benefits! [2] 

3. Reduce Your Stress

Spending time in the great outdoors can have a calming effect on people. 

You don’t just feel calmer as well. By measuring stress-indicator hormones like Cortisol, we can actually see the change in our bodies. 

For most of the pandemic, I’ve tried to get out into natural environments whenever I can. Usually, I try to go for a walk on my lunch break. It might just be in the local park, but it allows me to get out of my apartment and take a break for a little while. 

Outdoor exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels, as evidenced by physiological shifts and self-reported feeling, with positive long-term effects.

4. Get Creative 

Backpackers scored 50% higher on creativity assessments after four days in the wilderness without access to digital technologies or media, according to psychologists. [3]

This is thought to be due to the minimal, exciting stimuli present in nature, which enable our directed-attention abilities to recharge.

We are continually confronted with intense attention-seeking stimuli in urban settings, which often necessitates directed attention to prevent being struck by a bus, for example.

Natural settings are simpler and less dangerous than urban areas, which are frantic and “all-in.”

To put it another way, living in a city can be exhausting. Our brain relaxes and recovers when we are outside in open spaces.

5. Live Longer 

It might sound too good to be true, but there’s some evidence to suggest that by spending more time outside you could increase your overall chances of living longer. 

Researchers in the Netherlands studied over a quarter of a million residents to see whether there was a connection between the number of green spaces in people’s living environments and their overall wellbeing.

The study discovered a close connection between local green spaces and increased health perception. Residents with more available green space in their area had a reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease. 

There are a lot of interacting factors when it comes to life expectancy and the great outdoors, generally, the more time you spend in natural environments, the higher your life expectancy should rise. 

6. Be Happy 

There’s reason to believe that nature makes us happy. 

Previous research has shown that feeling connected to and engaging with nature will improve your well-being.

It has been shown that taking a stroll in a natural setting improves our mood. A 20-minute stroll in the park can be enough to improve our general mood. [4]

But individuals with a deep sense of attachment to nature could be at risk of detrimental impacts on their well-being if they are unable to enter natural habitats.

Outro 

Getting outside and enjoying nature comes with a variety of health and wellness benefits. All of the benefits referred to here have been thoroughly researched to give an educated perspective to the issue. 

But health and wellbeing are fundamentally individual-specific. The boost to your mental health that you could get from spending time outdoors will vary from reader to reader and whilst some might feel immediate benefits, it can take others a while to feel the advantages of spending more time outside. 

Whatever you do to get outdoors, do something you enjoy. Don’t go hiking if you hate walking. Maybe take a book, find a big tree and spend an afternoon reading beneath its shade. After all, there’s lots to do out there – the great outdoors are endless! 

Sources

[1] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(13)00764-1?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982213007641%3Fshowall%3Dtrue#secsectitle0010

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/ 

[3] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051474 

[4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09603123.2019.1577368?scroll=top&needAccess=true 

 

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