Go outside! I’m serious. Go ahead and read this on your smartphone, under the shade of a great big tree. Why am I so adamant that you get your booty outside? Well – most of our lives are spent indoors. Studies have shown that average Americans spend 90 percent of their time inside. 90 percent! That number might seem high, but think about it. When you consider the fact that our work days are spent almost exclusively indoors and that our evenings include cooking up dinner and proceeding to watch Netflix before you hit the hay, it isn’t all that unreasonable.
This is problematic, specifically, for two reasons: The first is that buildings are making us sick – indoor air quality is, literally, killing us. The second? The great outdoors can provide us with innumerable incredible health benefits.
Here’s a rundown of the health rewards you can reap if you just turn off the TV, put down the phone and step outside.
Make time to focus on birds, flowers, trees and the landscape – it gives your brain a break. This purposeful pause allows you to create mental distance from the stressors of life.
In so much of our lives, be it at work, in school or at home, our attention can be demanded for great lengths of time. This can and does drain us mentally. There is a term for this: Directed Attention Fatigue. After a while, this fatigue can keep us from focusing on anything at all.
To counterbalance the effect of Directed Attention Fatigue, head outdoors. This gives the cognitive portion of your brain a much needed breather. It allows you to reset, becoming more focused and gaining patience for the next round of hard work and concentration.
By heading outdoors, you are likely more active while being surrounded by the natural world. These two outcomes contribute to reducing stress.
We all know exercise is good for you. You’ve heard it a thousand times every which way. Not only does it do a body good, it does your brain good, too! Exercise of all kinds has been shown to lower stress and anxiety levels.
When we feel stress, which begins in the brain thanks to the friendly hormone cortisol, our many nerve connections send the stress throughout the body. What this means is when we feel stress it has a psychological effect as well as a physical effect.
When your body feels good, through exercise and stretching, it can help your brain feel better too. Consistent exercise has even been shown to lower chances of developing depression or anxiety by close to 25 percent.
In addition, physical activity generates and releases endorphins. These natural painkillers are produced by the body when it is in motion. Even a simple low-to-moderate-intensity workout can help you feel invigorated and happy and truly increase your sense of wellbeing.
If you don’t engage in heartrate increasing exercise, simply being in the presence of nature can reduce stress. Immersing yourself in nature or even just viewing nature scenes can lessen feelings of stress and rage while increasing positive feelings.
Better Eye Health
Many of us spend 8 plus hours a day staring at a computer, phone or tablet screen. This is no bueno, as it can result in Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). What is CVS? CVS is an eye problem which develops when a person looks at a screen up close for extended periods of time.
Symptoms include eye issues like double vision, dry eyes, blurred sight, eye irritation or other physical ailments like headaches or neck and back pain.
Pushing away from your desk and computer, switching off your tablet or putting down your phone to go outside will widen your perspective. This is essential to prevent (or remedy) Computer Vision Syndrome: Being out in nature will bring your focus on your beautiful surroundings – plants, animals, trees and trails – which are likely much further away from your face than two feet.
Improved Immune System
When you head outdoors and take in the fresh air you are also breathing in phytoncides. Don’t worry, phytoncides are cool.
Plants give off these airborne chemicals when they try to protect themselves. These naturally produced chemicals are antibacterial and antifungal, which enable plants to fight off disease. In Latin, “phyton” means “plant” while “cide” means to exterminate.
When humans come into contact with these substances they don’t hinder us, but they do help us. Our bodies boost the quantity and activity of white blood cells when phytoncides are ingested. These white blood cells are known to kill tumors and other virus-infested cells. So bring on the phytoncides.
A Dose of Vitamin D
The sun serves up a healthy helping of Vitamin D, a vitamin that isn’t present in many foods. The sun is your best bet to get your daily requirement.
Vitamin D encourages calcium absorption inside the gut. In addition to that, Vitamin D maintains and promotes normal mineralization of bone. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bone growth and bone maintenance.
Without enough Vitamin D, bones can become brittle, thin or even misshapen. When paired with calcium, vitamin D can also help stave off osteoporosis in older adults.
Above all else, Vitamin D helps to sustain a healthy immune system. Those without enough Vitamin D are more likely to develop osteoporosis, cancer and even Alzheimer’s.
You’re busy — we all are. Still, do yourself a favor and make the time to go outside. The mental and physical benefits of stepping out into nature are seemingly endless. When you do return inside to your work or family, you’ll be better able to focus and remain calm and you’ll feel healthier, too. So put down your smartphone and take a hike – literally!