Spending even just a short amount of time outdoors every can has shown to have numerous health benefits. At Lems, we love to get active outdoors regularly, which is of course great for our physical health, and regular exposure to the outdoors also boosts our mental health.
A 2019 study out of England showed that nearly 20,000 subjects reported health and wellness benefits after spending at least 120 minutes outside weekly. The time spent outdoors could be spread out throughout the week or occur all at once, with no further gain after 200-300 minutes spent outdoors.
Greater exposure to nature, which includes parks, forests, and beaches, is associated with improved health, particularly in urban societies. Access to the outdoors has demonstrated lower risks of a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Let’s explore some of the ways that getting outside helps with mental health.
Lowers Risk of Depression
Exposure to natural light boosts mood and improves overall self-esteem, studies show. This is why getting a daily dose of Vitamin D can help stave off depression.
A large study of 500,000 women between the ages of 37 and 73 years old conducted in 2021 in Great Britain demonstrated that each hour spent outside showed a decrease in the risk of developing long-term depression. Researchers also saw reduced use of antidepressants among those women who spent more time outdoors.
Sunlight increases serotonin levels, which is the body’s natural mood stabilizer, therefore reducing instances of depression and anxiety, particularly in the fall and winter when sunlight is more scarce.
Increased Focus and Attention
It’s important to take regular breaks from the many screens we use throughout the day. The constant flipping back and forth between tabs and responding to various dings takes a toll on our attention.
The constant overstimulation from technology can increase stress levels. Stepping away from the desk for outdoor time offers a chance to recharge by helping settle our minds allowing us to gain deep focus on our work when we return to our computer.
In addition to better focus and reduced instances of ADHD, getting outdoors benefits the brain in other cognitive ways. The simple act of breathing in the oxygen from fresh air improves brain function.
Nature is also inspiring and boosts creativity. There’s a reason many artists look to nature when they are creating their work.
Even a short 10-minute outdoor break a few times per day can help keep the distraction mayhem at bay.
Often, getting outdoors means connecting with friends and your local community. Whether you are meeting a friend for a lunchtime walk, the running club to hit the trails after work, or joining a yoga class in the park, spending more time with other people helps fend off feelings of loneliness.
Plus, when we engage in social activities outdoors, it means that we are typically moving our bodies, which improves physical health. As we know, regular exercise reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemical.
Lower Stress Levels
A 2019 study from Frontiers in Psychology showed that spending just 20 minutes in nature can reduce stress hormone levels. The study asked 36 people to spend at least 10 minutes in nature three days a week for eight weeks. Settings ranged from yards to parks and green spaces near their office and activities included walking or sitting in proximity to nature.
Participants were asked to refrain from exercise and to avoid stimulants like social media, phone calls, reading, and social interactions beforehand. Saliva samples showed that spending 20 to 30 minutes in nature, no matter the time of day, resulted in a drop in cortisol levels, the natural chemical in the body that produces stress.
Getting direct sunlight, especially within an hour of waking up in the morning, helps us sleep better. This is because getting sunlight upon waking helps balance our circadian rhythm, the internal 24-hour sleep/wake cycle.
Sunlight exposure in the morning helps wake you up and feel more alert during the day, leading to feeling more sleepy later in the evening, when it’s closer to bedtime. Although indoor lighting can help with the circadian rhythm, direct sunlight has 200 times the intensity of office lights.