Fresh air, sunshine beating down on you and beautiful green spaces; spending time with Mother Nature probably isn’t something you need to be sold on, but in case you’re in need of another reason, science backs it up, too. A study from the University of East Anglia found that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant health benefits, including reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress and high blood pressure. Here are some other ways that getting outdoors can improve your wellbeing.
Up your vits
Going outside is a great way to top up your levels of vitamin D. Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, it’s naturally produced by our skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. But what’s the big deal? “Studies carried out in eight countries, involving more than 26,000 adults aged 50 plus, found that those with the highest vitamin D levels were 57 percent less likely to die from any medical cause during the study durations than those with the lowest levels, underlining its importance,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk). However, living in the UK makes us prone to a deficiency. “In northern climes we simply don’t get enough natural sunlight during autumn and winter, so our vitamin D levels plummet. In addition, when the sun is shining, a sunscreen with a protection factor of SPF8 reduces vitamin D3 production in the skin by 95 percent. To balance adequate production of vitamin D3 against skin cancer risk, usual advice is to obtain 10-15 minutes of sun exposure to your face, arms, hands and back, without sunscreen, two or three times a week.”
If you’re feeling uninspired, it might be time to grab your trainers and head to your local park. “Walking outside boosts creativity,” says Dr Aria (dr-aria.com), a clinical psychologist specialising in long-term health. “A gentle stroll boosts creative thinking on average by 60 percent. Walking at your natural stride fires up the creative pathways in your brain, which is great news as creativity has numerous positive benefits and is linked to success at work, mental wellness and maintaining loving relationships.”
Time to relax
Getting outside is also a natural stressbuster. “Being in nature appears to give our brains an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate,” explains Dr Aria. “The natural outdoors was the home of our hunter-gatherer ancestors for thousands of years. Settings with greenery and water would have been ideal locations to settle. This may explain our innate affiliation to nature and why these environments have a restorative effect on our mental health.”
In addition to this, a study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that natural environments allow people to leave the stressors of their everyday lives behind and instead focus their minds on something ‘more pure’.
Being mindful of the here and now is something many of us struggle with due to our hectic daily schedules. However, the great outdoors is a wonderful antidote to remedy this. “Walking a woodland route or discovering a new path can lead you to really be present in your surroundings and less occupied with the thoughts in your head,” says mental health coach and author, Kamran Bedi (kamranbedi.com). “Next time you’re out, focus on all that you can see and hear and even notice the temperature on your skin. Using your senses can allow you to powerfully shift your focus from the worries of your mind as you step into your present surroundings.”
Ever noticed the serene and tranquil atmosphere a forest possesses? “Nature offers us a gentle and unconscious reminder of how stillness is powerful and how silence can be rewarding,” says Kamran. “When you’re in nature, notice the colours of the flowers, the stillness and strength of the trees and allow yourself to find the quiet that also lies within you. How do you do this? Again, use your focus and really be where you are. The more you bring your mind to the place where your body walks, sits or stands, the more free and aligned you can become with your surroundings.”
“Theories show that by taking a break from being in front of a screen and going on a short walk, allows our eyes and mind to rest,” says Steve Anderson, head of activities at Kingswood (kingswood.co.uk). “So, when we come back to doing work, we feel more motivated to get it done. That presentation won’t seem like such a big task after all!”
3 Ways to get outside more often
1. Plan ahead
“If you know that social plans will prevent your evening walk outside, then squeeze in a walk on your lunch break,” says Dr Aria. “Keep a spare pair of trainers at work or in your car.” Similarly, change into your outdoor clothes the moment you come home from work. You’re less likely to be in the frame of mind to go outside again if you’re in your work attire, so changing into a T-shirt, shorts and trainers will ensure you’re ready to go.
2. Make it part of your social plans
“Take a walking meeting,” suggests Dr Aria. “Rather than sitting in the office, if you can step outside, walk and talk. Alternatively, you could arrange to meet a friend for an evening stroll or gentle jog together at your local park, instead of meeting for a drink.”
3. Love your garden
Who says you have to go far to enjoy the great outdoors? You can use this time to tend to your garden, instead of seeing it as a weekend chore. That way you have the satisfaction of creating your own beautiful environment to relax in.