Intuitively, most of us feel a draw toward nature. We bring plants and flowers into our homes, write poetry about nature, prefer the office or seat near a window (especially if there’s a view of green space or water), spend time on patios and balconies, and flock to whatever natural spaces are available to us - whether it’s just a little patch of lawn in a city or a National Park trail. For some of us, it’s unintentional, while others make a concerted, mindful effort to spend time in nature through camping or even forest bathing.
But a wealth of research on the benefits of getting outside backs up this intuitive draw toward the outdoors. After all, to our ancestors, a landscape rich with plants, colors, and natural resources was a landscape rich with food, shelter, and comfort. Here are 7 reasons you should get outdoors today:
- Explore your area. Most of us are surrounded by so much beauty and we’re not even aware of it! County, state, and national parks are great places to start, but even just a walk around your neighborhood can help you uncover beauty, meet a neighbor, or discover a fun new restaurant. Check out the AllTrails app to find a trail near you - you’ll be amazed at what’s just a short distance away!
- Get over that mental block. You know that feeling when you’ve been working on a challenging project and your brain just needs a boost? Rather than reaching for a cup of coffee, try getting outside for a few minutes - or even just looking at a beautiful nature scene! Research shows that exposing your brain to “restorative environments” can help give you a bump in mental energy.
- Stress relief. Most of us have experienced the de-stressing effect of spending time outside, and studies have shown that spending time in the forest decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Improve your mindfulness practice. It might feel impossible to sit silently for 20 minutes with your eyes closed and stay centered in a meditation, but outdoors is a great place to practice mindfulness. Rather than read or listen to a podcast as you sit or walk, simply notice and acknowledge what you’re sensing. How does the air feel against your skin? What do you smell? Do you hear birds or cars or a dog barking? You’ll be shocked at the incredible beauty you can find when you’re simply paying attention.
- Build community. Nature’s ability to unite us is incredible. Spend time hanging out outside and you might meet a new neighbor. Invite a friend or coworker to go on a walk and you might be surprised at how easily conversation flows in a natural setting. You can even join a local meetup group for hikes, bike rides, or runs!
- Cognitive Boost: Research has shown that time in nature can help with focus and concentration, improve creative problem solving, and improve working memory. For example, in one study, University of Michigan students were given a memory test, then divided into two groups that walked around an arboretum and city street, respectively. Upon returning and retaking the memory test, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% percent better than they had the first time. The people who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve.
- Improve a bad mood. An analysis of 10 studies about “green exercise” (such as taking a nature walk), found that "every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood.” The presence of water can make the effects even stronger!
Rain or shine, you can experience the awe, gratitude, and restoration nature has to offer. And best of all, you can get all these benefits for free! So what are you still doing inside?! Get out there!