2020 brought us the lockdown. As stay-at-home orders proliferated across the country and working from home became the norm, many of us found our world shrinking by the day. And this increasingly narrow slice of life we got to enjoy took its toll on our mental health. Science is increasingly telling us that the benefits of spending time in nature are greater than we can ever imagine, and a year stuck in the city gives us a profound subjective vested interest in this research.
You don’t have to be summiting peaks or having epic adventures to get the benefits, either. The constant features of the great outdoors are light, space, landscape and living beings. From a stroll in the park to scaling a mountain, these benefits are accessible to anyone who takes time to step outside.
Here are seven ways that simply getting outside can have a surprising impact on your wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
1) The Vitamin D Hit
Vitamin D is a crucial element of our physical health. It’s a hormone that has been linked to the prevention of a wide range of physical disorders, from strokes and heart disease to early-onset dementia. Whilst we tend to think of our nutrition as something dependent on what we eat, one of the primary sources of vitamin D is, in fact, natural sunlight.
Our body operates on a complex balance, and even though vitamin D is a popular supplement it’s hard for our bodies to absorb it internally. Getting your vitamin D hit from a day outdoors is the best way to guarantee a healthy balance. Scientific studies have linked the lack of vitamin D to psychological disorders such as depression. So step outside!
2) Sleeping Soundly
Bad sleep can stack up, night on night, to become a chronic problem. A lack of sleep can be caused by many things but most people report that their brain becomes overactive the moment they hit the pillow. If this sounds familiar, then getting outside could be the cure you’ve been waiting for.
“Spending days in the great outdoors can tackle sleeping problems on a dual platform, by tiring out your body and your brain,” says Trevor Anderson, an expert at Research papers UK and Writinity. “Exposure to sunlight helps us to get into a natural rhythm of waking and sleep, and the ache in our bones after a long day sends us straight to sleep.”
3) Lowering Your Blood Pressure
Exercise has been demonstrated to have an immediate impact on lowering blood pressure and, when it becomes embedded in your weekly routine can prevent chronic issues emerging from type 2 diabetes to strokes. And it doesn’t have to be hardcore – studies have shown that even exercise of moderate intensity such as cycling or hiking can be just as powerful at lowering blood pressure as intense cardivascular exercise. So take a hike!
4) An Immune System Booster
Spending time in the great outdoors can give your immune system a powerful boost. By switching up your environment, you encourage your body to be proactive in producing antibodies and defending itself from viruses and other airborne ailments. It’s been shown that a three-day camping trip can influence your immune system for a further 30 days, showing that a little time outside can have a big impact on your well-being.
5) Stress Reliever
Stress has both physical and psychological components to it and spending time outdoors can have a profound impact on each of these elements and contribute to profound stress relief. On the physical side of things, getting outside has been demonstrated to reduce cortisol levels, having an instant impact on the physical symptoms of stress.
What’s more, the light and space of the great outdoors can take you a world away from the troubles of daily life. Stresses around work, family and relationships can fade away when faced with vistas of our natural landscapes.
6) A Brain Reset
Mindfulness has become a mental health buzzword over the past few years, but there’s a real impact of finding ways to allow your brain to settle down. Spending time outdoors can give your brain a chance to reset, giving you more energy to tackle the challenges of your life without anxiety flaring up. This is one of the most interesting benefits of spending time in nature.
Exercise is simultaneously distracting and repetitive – pedals turning or feet pounding the ground can have a profoundly meditative effect. After a day spent in nature you might realise your troubles have all drifted away.
7) Feel Empowered
Whether you’re cycling out of the city or preparing for a multi-day trek, getting into nature demands that we make plans, find ways to be self-sufficient and achieve goals for ourselves. Spending time in the great outdoors can build a powerful resilience in ourselves, teaching us exactly what we’re capable of when push comes to shove.
It can be incredibly empowering to push yourself to the physical limits of your body, and this can have an impact on your personal and professional life in surprising ways. You’ll be ready to take on more projects at work, take your career to the next step and to stand up for yourself in relationships.
Spend time with nature always
If you haven’t ventured into the great outdoors before, I recommend that you do your research. Stepping out into the great unknown can be an adventure, but when the weather can change fast or the trails twist and turn, a few surprises can be waiting – and not the good kind. “No matter what the weather forecast says, pack an additional layer and a waterproof for emergencies,” says Michael Boyett, a health writer at Last minute writing and Draft Beyond. “It’s also important to tell a friend or a family member where you’re going and have a plan B for what they should do if you aren’t back on time.”
From vitamin D boosting your mood to the satisfaction of a good night’s sleep, there are so many benefits of spending time in nature. The great outdoors is just waiting to be explored – but take sensible precautions to prioritize your safety, and to make sure you have a great time.
Alex Dubinski is a writer and researcher at Lucky Assignments Belfast and Gum Essays. He gained a degree in psychology before transitioning to work in the outdoor industry. He is based in Boulder, Colorado and loves hiking, climbing and wild swimming.