THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GETTING OUTSIDE - By Sarah Kuta

We’ve all felt the benefits of outdoor activities—possibly without even knowing it. The moment you step outside and fill your lungs with fresh air, you notice that stress seems to just start melting away. However, the act of prioritizing spending time in nature is sometimes easier said than done. Between work, helping the kids with homework, catching up on your favorite TV shows and even reading in bed for book club, we jam-pack our daily lives with indoor activities, and almost all of them seem to involve technology.

Unleash your limitless potential by taking charge of your physical and mental health. With warmer in full bloom, it’s time to ditch those screens and make room for the outdoors—here’s how to get started!

kayaking

THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANNING A DIGITAL DETOX

These days, it feels like practically everything we do involves staring at screens—the computer, our phones, the TV after a long and stressful day. But, what is all the screen time doing to our bodies and minds?

Turns out, spending too much time in front of screens is bad for all sorts of science-backed reasons. Scientists have linked screen exposure to sleep issues, as well as next-morning lack of alertness.[1] Blue light, or the light emitted from most screens, also has some bad side effects, including eye strain and potential eye damage.[2]

Additionally, unless you’re a master multitasker and reading your Kindle while taking a jog, you’re probably sitting down when you’re using your computer, smartphone, TV or e-reader. Using screens is naturally associated with sedentary behavior—aka sitting down for long periods of time—which is connected to a whole host of health issues, including increased risk of obesity and heart disease.[3]

The solution to all the negative effects of screen time? A digital detox. Taking a break from all of the screens in your life (yes, ALL) is an important element of self-care. Putting your phone in another room before you go to sleep is a good start, but you can also embark on an even more robust digital detox by leaving your screens at home and immersing yourself in a natural environment—by taking a hike, riding your bike or even just walking over to a nearby park.

If you can’t make it happen during workdays, plan to unplug on weekend field trips. Read on to learn more about how to ditch the screens and spend more time among the trees, plants, animals and birds getting some much-needed fresh air.

WHY YOU NEED MORE FRESH AIR

We all intuitively understand that we just feel better when we’re able to spend a little time outdoors. However, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back up this hard-to-explain feeling of improved mental and physical health, too. Getting outside not only improves your quality of life, but also has numerous health benefits:

  • Spending time outside is a great way to support your body’s production of vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin. 
  • Spending time in nature almost certainly means you’re breathing cleaner, fresher air, which is better for your lungs and has been linked with a reduction in acute respiratory symptoms.[5]
  • If you’re spending time in nature, chances are, you’re also moving your body and getting some physical exercise, even if just for a quick walk—which is a good thing when it comes to lowering your risk of chronic diseases and improving your cardiovascular health.[6]
  • Compared to an urban city environment, spending time in nature has been linked to lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol, which is your body’s “fight or flight” stress hormone.[7]
  • Even 10 or 15 minutes spent in natural spaces can improve your state of mind, boost your focus and help reduce your stress levels.[8]
  • When getting outside, you can take advantage of the benefits of light therapy, which can help you achieve better sleep, a balanced mood and more.

HOW OFTEN TO ENGAGE IN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

You don’t have to be a hardcore adventurer or an extreme athlete to reap the benefits of outdoor activities—you may even be surprised by how easily (and quickly!) you can incorporate nature time into your routine and boost your overall health and wellness.

Spending a total of just two hours each week outdoors can improve your overall feelings of health and well-being.[10] Plus, it doesn’t matter how or when you spend your time outdoors—you can reap the same benefits by taking long walks or making shorter, regular visits to a nearby park.

What’s more, if you’re having trouble sleeping, nature time can help with that too. In fact, even a short weekend spent camping can help reset your body’s biological clock and give your circadian rhythm a reboot.[11]

The options for how you spend time outdoors and feel the benefits of outdoor recreation are limitless: Biking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, standup paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, walking and other forms of aerobic outdoor physical activity are all great choices. Mix it up and challenge yourself to try something new to reap the positive effects of physical fitness and outdoor exercise.

WHAT IS FOREST BATHING?

forest bathing

 

Forest bathing is an incredible way to unplug and soak up all the benefits of outdoor exercise. This practice originated in Japan, where it’s called “shinrin-yoku,” and entails simply immersing yourself in nature for a period of time.

As the name suggests, ideally, you’d conduct forest bathing beneath a canopy of trees, but really, any natural setting will work just fine. Forest bathing is open to people of all ability and activity levels, since it involves walking, standing, sitting or even lying down—the important thing is that you leave your phone and other devices behind, so you can be totally present in the moment.

Once you’re out in nature, be sure to open all your senses to the benefits of forest bathing. Smell the fresh air and aromas of the plants around you, listen for birds and other sounds from nature’s soundtrack, taste the fresh air entering your lungs, feel the cool water of a stream or run your hands along the rugged bark of a tree.

Try to quiet your mind and direct all of your thoughts and energy toward all the sensory benefits of forest bathing—slow down and don’t rush yourself as you boost your environmental awareness. Start and end when you feel like it, without putting time constraints on this journey, which is a form of self-care in and of itself.

If you can’t steal away for a few uninterrupted hours in nature, that’s okay, too. Find a quiet, peaceful place, like your yard or patio, or at a nearby green space for outdoor meditation or yoga.

Moral of the story:

The benefits of outdoor exercise are huge, and taking even just a few minutes out of your busy day to step outside can work to improve your mood and help you embrace a healthy lifestyle. Prioritize a digital detox every so often and reap the perks of outdoor activities, forest bathing, and simple, pure fresh air.

 

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