How does working in a garden, playing at a park or walking in the woods make you feel? Calm? Happy? Rejuvenated? Did you know that a dose of greenspace can be good for your health and well-being? There is a growing body of research that points to many beneficial effects that exposure to nature has on our health. In fact, scientists are finding evidence that being in nature has a positive impact on the mind, body and soul.1
Here are 10 reasons why it’s helpful to spend time outdoors:
1. Being Outdoors Boosts Your Energy
Studies have shown that exposure to nature is linked with increased vitality and a heightened sense of well-being. The research finds that being in nature for just 20 minutes in a day significantly boosts energy levels.2
2. Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin, Improves Your Health
Sunlight has the ability to boost the body’s Vitamin D supply, which is good for your bones, blood cells and immune system. Studies show that Vitamin D may help protect you from depression, stroke and heart attack.3
3. Nature Can Uplift Your Mood
Natural light, fresh air and digging in the dirt can boost your mood. Various studies have shown that exposure to natural light can help improve your mood and your self-esteem.4 Digging in the dirt stirs up microbes, which are tiny living things in the soil that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Inhaling these microbes can stimulate serotonin production, which can make you feel relaxed and happier; lifting your spirits.5 Mother Nature’s outdoor playground is the perfect antidote to a blue mood.
4. Nature Strengthens Your Immune System
Exposure to nature, especially forests, strengthens the immune system. Many plants produce organic compounds called phytoncides. Plants use phytoncides to defend themselves against unwanted pests, such as insects, bacteria or fungi. Phytoncides can improve the human immune system by increasing natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system.6 Sunlight may have another gift to give. It has been shown to energize special cells in the immune system called T cells—these cells are known to help fight infection.7
5. Nature Helps Your Memory
Nature is filled with inherently interesting stimuli, and as you take in the wonder of your beautiful surroundings, your mind becomes more present. This activity refreshes and restores your ability to direct your attention and working memory (a temporary storage system in your brain that holds several facts or thoughts while solving a problem or performing a task).8
6. The Outdoors Enhances Your Creativity
Studies show that time in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities and imagination. This is because when you are rested and energized your highest analytical abilities are harnessed and this helps you start thinking of new ideas. Also the outside world engages your attention in a quieter way that lets your attention focus.9
7. Nature Improves Your Self-Esteem
As little as five minutes of outdoor activity can help improve your self-esteem. This is especially true if you are near water or green space.10 Taking a walk, going to the beach, riding your bike or working in the garden are all things you can do to feel better about yourself.
8. Nature Helps Relieve Stress
Nature has the power to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. When you are strolling through a meadow or forest, tension and worry tend to fall away. Researchers have found that as little as 20-30 minutes in nature per day can significantly reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone, and it acts like the body’s alarm system by triggering the fight or flight response. Extended exposure to cortisol can disrupt your body’s processes and put you at risk for health problems.11
9. Nature Promotes Better Sleep
Getting outdoors and being exposed to sunlight can reset your circadian rhythm (the natural wake/sleep patterns your body needs to maintain good health) and restore a more natural sleep pattern.12
10. Nature Helps You Restore
If you spend time outdoors and use your senses to appreciate nature, you can become more mindful of the present and gain emotional resilience. Studies have found that having a connection to nature helps you cope during challenging times, better manage your stress levels and enhances your ability to think positively.13 Being in nature also promotes physical restoration. Research has proven that exposure to nature contributes to reducing your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and production of stress hormones.14
Nature is amazing for your mind and body. Whether you prefer working in your garden, walking on a beach, hiking in a forest, camping, fishing, biking, picnicking at a park or listening to birdsong, getting outside is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your health and well-being.
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
“Nature Cure” by Richard Mabey
“Your Brain on Nature” by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan
Elizabeth Lorentz gardens at Mears Park in downtown Saint Paul. She loves growing native perennial plants and herbs. She is an intern with the Ramsey County Master Gardener program.
Title: Sun Shining Through Trees
Photographer: J Plenio