Going Outside Can Make You Healthier

When you think about nature, you probably think about beautiful scenery. You know: crisp mountain streams, rolling hills covered with lush forests, and fields full of wildflowers. But nature is about a lot more than that — being outside can improve your mental and physical health in surprising ways. Turns out, your mother was right: fresh air really is good for you.

“Nature” doesn’t necessarily mean forests and mountain ranges, although it definitely includes those spaces. Any green space — whether it’s an urban park, a walking trail, or an open, grassy area — will do.

Here’s proof that being outside will make you healthier:

Exercising gets easier outside.

The mental health benefits of exercise are well documented. But did you know being outside can make exercising easier? Some studies have shown that the color green makes exercise feel as though it’s less strenuous, increasing the likelihood that you’ll want to do it more often. And other studies have indicated that people who exercise outdoors get more excited about future workouts than those who exercise indoors. What’s not to love?

You’ll ramp up your Vitamin D intake.

Remember how your mother always reminded you to take your vitamins? Vitamin D is one you won’t want to skimp on. It’s vital for the growth and development of bones and teeth and helps your immune system work. But Vitamin D is tough to get from foods because so few carry it naturally. How to stock up? Head outside! But because your skin can only soak up Vitamin D from unprotected exposure to the sun, you’ll have to be careful. Go outside without sunblock for 10 to 15 minutes, or about half the time it takes most people to experience sunburn. Then, once you’ve replenished your body’s Vitamin D stores, slather on the sunscreen.

You’ll shed stress and relax.

Several studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces stress levels. While the exact reason why remains unknown, it’s clear that people who spend time in natural settings have lower heart rates and lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than those who don’t. And when you do go outside, be sure to stop and smell the roses — literally! Scents like lilac, rose, and fresh pine have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

Your brain will have time to put its feet up.

Studies have shown that people who live in cities deal with something called “sensory overload,” which causes what doctors call “cognitive fatigue.” That’s a fancy way of saying that urban environments tend to overstimulate our brains. After all, there’s a lot to pay attention to in cities! Green space gives your brain a much-needed break from all the goings-on, allowing it time to process information and clear away the cobwebs.

You’ll stop forgetting your car keys (maybe).

Ever walk into a room and forget why you’re there? Yeah, it happens to everyone. Improve your memory by heading outside. Students in a recent University of Michigan study took memory tests and were then broken up into two groups. One group went to an arboretum and the other took a walk down a city street. When the students took another memory test, the students who had spent time amongst trees did nearly 20% better than those who took in the city sights.

You’ll find it easier to focus.

Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task. Lots of things happening at once means you’re getting more done, right? Nope. Studies have shown that multi-tasking… isn’t. Luckily, being outside — or even having a view of some green space outside your window — can restore your ability to concentrate. The effect is so strong that studies suggest it could help children with ADHD.

Lucky for us, Western New York offers ample opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ask around and you’ll be sure to find more options.

We saved the best part for last: getting your daily dose of nature doesn’t mean you’ve got to do anything extreme, like a 100-mile hike or whitewater rafting. Head to the nearest park and enjoy a walk, a bike ride, or some time on a bench enjoying the scenery. You can even get these benefits by sitting outside on your porch! (Just don’t forget the iced tea.)