For much of human history, getting outside was not a luxury—it was unavoidable. Nowadays, we have to make time to walk around the block. Like so many other things, we see the value of nature by its absence.
The team and I at Explore New Trails believe that the more nature you have in your day, the better. Whether you are spending all summer backpacking, or you are just taking a stroll through your neighbourhood or local park in the evening, getting outside is good for you.
But it’s easy to forget that exercising outdoors can offer incredible benefits to your body beyond losing fat weight and gaining muscle strength! Here are five unexpected ways spending time outdoors can boost your health and wellbeing—and you don’t have ro be a marathon runner to enjoy the benefits.
1. Spending time outside boosts your immune health
The practice of deliberately entering the woods to find relief from stress and to commune with nature became popular in Japan in the 1980s and is now known in the United States as “forest bathing.”
People have known for a long time that exposure to the natural world can bring healing to the body, but until recently, scientific research had not confirmed this cultural wisdom. Several studies have now shown that naturally occurring phytoncides emitted by trees increase the number of natural killer cells and anti-cancer proteins in the human body.
What’s more, these studies also showed that the benefits of a prolonged walk in the woods can last for seven days.
2. Exercising in nature is good for your heart
Did you know hiking outside can lower your cortisol – a stress inducing hormone in your body? In a study of 280 individuals in 24 different forests across Japan, researchers found that those individuals who were exposed to forest instead of city had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, along with slower heart rates and less sympathetic nervous system activity. This study even accounted for variations between “walking and viewing” periods among individuals.
3. Nature stimulates your focus, cognition, and creativity
If the physical benefits are not enough for you, working out in nature provides fantastic advantages for the health of your brain.
Taking a walk, hiking through the woods, climbing a mountain, skiing, kayaking, cycling, swimming, and all the other activities available to you outside expose your senses to a greater range of experiences. Your brain and nervous system find greater stimulation in the elements, and this makes your time outside more interesting and engaging than the hour you might spend inside staring at the wall or TV.
Furthermore, physical activity in the open air has been shown to improve and preserve cognitive plasticity in older adults, as well as in “modifying metabolic, structural, and functional dimensions of the brain.”
With increased stimulation, better focus, and improved memory, people who take their workouts beyond the walls of their house will find it is easier to be creative, and when adding improved rest during sleep, they will generally be more productive and feel better the rest of the day.
4. Being active outdoors increases your well-being
One of the greatest benefits that people report when practicing “green exercise” is the boost in well-being. You don’t have to hike the Appalachian Trail to feel the benefits, either – a simple walk through a public park will do, and some studies have shown an even greater effect when water, such as a lake, is present.
Furthermore, a person who exercises outside will typically be exposed to more sunlight, which increases the body’s production of Vitamin D. Greater amounts of this vitamin have been linked to improvements in mood and reduced depression.
5. Get outside and increase your social connection
Whether you are going for a walk or a run, taking a ride on your bike through the community, swimming in a lake, gardening, or climbing up a mountain, you will find that training outside creates opportunities to meet new people, especially people who live nearby. Staying connected to your community and building positive connections with others will greatly benefit your emotional health.
What’s more, if you have a family, making the time to get outside will give you a chance to spend quality time with your loved ones. The benefits of outdoor activities for children are nearly endless, and there’s no better way for children to burn off some energy than by exploring the great outdoors. And for self-esteem and mood, a multi-study analysis showed that the young often benefit the most.
Are you stressed? Do you feel lonely, or like you’re stuck in a rut? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245, Duncan on 0434 331 243 or Rachel on 0442 177 193 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online.
Andrew grew up in Pennsylvania and is a passionate explorer. He has backpacked throughout the world, from the European Alps, to the deserts of the American West, to the mountains of Great Britain and Ireland, and of course, the forests of Appalachia. From his current base camp in Southern Pennsylvania, Andrew spends his free time camping, hiking and blogging about his adventures through the wilderness.