As a society that spends increasingly less time outdoors, it’s not surprising that many of us experience nature deficit disorder. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get outside more often because being surrounded by nature has all kinds of health-boosting benefits.
Here are seven science-backed health reasons to get outside right now:
1. Increases physical activity
We move more when we’re outdoors. We take more steps and explore our surroundings. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that every hour spent outdoors is associated with seven more minutes of heart-pumping physical activity, taking 762 more steps and spending 13 fewer minutes being sedentary.
2. Lowers blood pressure
Studies from the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences found that in comparison to city environments, getting a 30-minute dose of nature can lower your pulse and blood pressure.
3. Provides access to improved air quality
Air quality indoors is often worse than outdoors. In fact, spending large amounts of time indoors increases exposure to infectious diseases and common allergens (like pet dander and dust), and may even lead to the development of chronic respiratory conditions.
4. Harnesses improved social interaction
Being outdoors enhances our desire to seek and enhance social connections. Improved social interactions help fend off excessive feelings of loneliness while boosting mental wellness more generally.
5. Boosts moods
Forests and natural environments are considered therapeutic landscapes and have demonstrated many positive psychological effects. In fact, a recent study published in Public Health found that exposure to forests and trees led to increased liveliness, and decreased levels of stress, hostility and depression.
6. Benefits immunity
Breathing in the wilderness tonic of essential oils from the trees, leaves and soil (aka phytoncides) helps improve immune system function. A study in Japan found that individuals showed significant increases in NK cell activity (i.e., cells that fight infections and aid in cancer prevention) in the week after a forest visit, and these positive effects lasted a month following each visit to the woods.
7. Decreases levels of stress and anxiety
Increased exposure to the outdoors, including forested environments, has been shown to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Being in nature can have a profound positive impact on a person’s sympathetic (i.e., fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems. Essentially, people feel less stressed and more rested. Interestingly, some doctors are even prescribing walking outdoors as part of their patients’ treatment plans for managing stress and anxiety.