In recent years, physicians have started prescribing time spent outside to treat a range of conditions, including obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, and more. Time spent outside has also been shown to benefit people that may not be suffering from a condition in a number of ways. Here’s a look at 8 reasons you should be spending more time outside.
1. Time spent in nature helps our memory
A 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that for individuals diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a walk in nature—relative to a walk in an urban setting—results in improved short-term memory, working memory, and overall cognition.
2. Sleeping outside stabilizes our internal clocks
A study published in the journal Current Biology, shows that sleeping outdoors can help regulate the internal clock, or circadian rhythm, as while outside one typically goes to bed and rises with the sun. Additionally, research published in the journal Anesthesiology shows that daylight (as opposed to artificial light) is an essential regulator of circadian rhythms. Disrupted circadian rhythms can contribute to physiological, cognitive, and other health consequences.
3. Getting outdoors relieves stress
In a world that expects constant high performance, output, and efficiency—whether in the home or work environment—it is easy to feel the everyday stress of reaching these expectations.
The great news? Going outside helps!
Numerous studies, including this one from the Behavioral Sciences journal, show that visiting green spaces and being exposed to nature, even for a short amount of time per day, can help reduce stress levels. Incorporate at least 15 minutes of activity in nature each day to feel stress levels begin to drop.
4. Mother Nature delivers an energy boost
Research shows that spending more time outdoors helps increase energy levels. Whether it is mountain biking, climbing, hiking, or going to the park, you’ll see the energy benefits internally after spending more time outdoors.
5. Mental health and physiological benefits
Exposure to green space is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD; lower levels of inflammation and blood pressure; and improved immune system. I see many of these benefits firsthand with my clients in wilderness therapy, making it one of the reasons I’m so passionate about working in this setting.
6. A dose of the “sunshine vitamin”
Vitamin D produced from sun exposure has myriad health benefits, such as protecting against osteoporosis, heart disease, and various cancers. Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University Medical Campus a proponent of “sensible sun exposure.” He encourages a safe approach, always protecting the face, choosing the right time of day, and allowing 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to arms and legs at a time.
7. A natural mood boost
“When you need an emotional boost, the fastest and easiest way is to spend a few minutes with nature,” says Katherine D. Arbuthnott, researcher and professor of psychology at University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan. Arbuthnott co-authored a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, which found that spending just five minutes in nature can both increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions.
8. Time to think and be YOU
Spending time unplugged and outside makes for the perfect time to reflect, think, and feel empowered. As a clinical therapist, I see this frequently in my adolescent clients. Few things can compare to the personal insight and direction found in the wilderness.
Morgan Seymour, LCSW is a clinical therapist at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in Durango, Colorado. She works with adolescent boys struggling with a variety of mental health issues. After gaining experience as a wilderness therapy field guide, Morgan earned a Master of Social Work from Colorado State University and has been a wilderness therapist since 2014. You can hear more from Morgan in her SKYlights podcast episode, “Game Changer: Utilizing Wilderness Therapy to Treat Adolescent Gaming Disorder.”
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