Did you know that us Americans spend 90 percent of our lives indoors? Between commuting to and from our jobs, spending likely over eight hours a day working and going about our normal daily business, we see nature more on our TVs than we do in real life.
Not only is that a depressing statistic, but there are real health benefits of being outdoors that we’re missing out on when we’re confined to our homes and office buildings. Research suggests just 120 minutes (that’s two hours) per week is associated with good health and wellbeing. From improving our moods to feeling more chill, being outdoors is something we all could use more of.
Related: National Park Prescription
Health Benefits of Being Outdoors
1. Breathe better air
Between pollution, seasonal allergies and creepy crawlies outside, some of us would prefer staying inside as often as possible. But if you thought you’re breathing better air inside, I hate to break it to you: indoor air pollution can be up to 10 times worse than what you’re inhaling outdoors.
Most of us think of pollution as factory smoke or car exhaust, but indoor air pollution means our homes are loaded with it too, and often at levels significantly higher than what you’d find outside. Inadequate ventilation, paints, chemicals from household and personal products and mold all contribute. So if you need to get a breath of fresh air, it’s time to head outside.
2. Soak up that vitamin D
One of the most common deficiencies among American adults is a vitamin D deficiency. What makes the vitamin different from most of the ones we need is that our bodies actually produce most of the vitamin D we need, instead of relying on the foods we eat to supply it. Our bodies convert the sunshine we soak up into chemicals that turn it into the vitamin D we all know and love.
However, if we don’t get outdoors enough, our body struggles to get enough sunshine to make vitamin D. Whenever possible, try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected time in the sun each day and reap the health benefits of being outdoors.
3. Help counteract seasonal affective disorder
While this might apply only for half of the year, it’s a big one. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that strikes in early autumn and worsens in the winter. While researchers aren’t sure what causes it exactly, a lack of light and vitamin D is suspected to play a role.
Even if you don’t have SAD, a lack of natural light during cooler weather can really affect your mood. Mitigate the effects and increase your vitamin D intake at the same time by heading outside.
4. Indulge in forest bathing
No, it doesn’t involve an outdoor shower. It’s closer to camping. But forest bathing, or forest therapy, is based on the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku, which emphasizes spending time away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and embracing nature.
The Japanese, already wise with their Okinawa diet, are on to something. Getting into nature can boost activity of a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection and tumor cells. It also help lower your blood pressure and reduce stress, something we can all use.
5. Ease anxiety
Feeling anxious about something? Taking a stroll outside can help. Researchers have found that just being outdoors in nature can improve your overall feelings of wellbeing and reduce anxiety. Escaping the indoors and heading outside can also boost creative juices — it’s a reason why walking meetings are becoming more popular.
6. Practice your grounding
Have you heard of grounding, or earthing, before? It’s a way of connecting to the earth’s energy by going barefoot. Our feet draw in the earth’s electrical charges, allowing them to flow through us. The results are improved sleep, reduced inflammation and more time in nature — all wins. And of course, you need to be outside to connect with the earth; carpet or hardwood floors don’t have the same effects!
How to Spend More Time Outdoors
Struggling to figure out how you can add the health benefits of being outdoors into your lifestyle and spend more time outside? It’s not as difficult as you think.
Exercise outside. Take your yoga sessions to the backyard or skip the treadmill and visit the park instead.
Take a walk. Break up the mid-afternoon slump with a short walk outside, or go on a walk as you chat on the phone.
Eat outside. Enjoy a change of scenery and eat your meals outdoors.
Embrace seasonal activities. Cold outside? Play in the snow, head to the park or go for a brisk walk. Warm out? Try hiking or watching your favorite baseball team play.
So no matter what the season, it’s time to get off the couch and enjoy the great outdoors. Your health will thank you.