There’s nothing like summer to remind us how much we’ve missed sunshine and fresh air. And that’s not just human nature – it’s also science. Psychologists and health researchers keep finding new connections between spending time outdoors and improved mood, sleep, overall health.
If getting out from in front of your screens isn’t enough motivation for you, here are a few more ways life gets better when you hike the nearby trails, swim in the ocean, play in the snow or simply visit your local park.
1. Nature has a calming effect
Spending time walking among – or even just looking at – trees is correlated with reduced stress. Combined with physical activity – we’re talking about a leisurely walk – it can help fight depression and anxiety.
2. A change will do you good
There’s a reason people suggest a “change of scenery” when you’re feeling stuck. Simply being out in the fresh air and sunshine reduces stress-related hormones like cortisol.
3. 20 minutes in the sun is as good as a cup of joe
Before you reach for that third cup of coffee, consider a quick trip outside. At least one study suggests that simply being outside – not even exercising – gives your brain an energy boost similar to a cup of coffee.
4. It’s free aromatherapy
Scented candles and oils? Save your money. Breathing in the scents of the outdoors, like flowers, grasses, herbs, actually makes you feel calmer and more relaxed – for free.
5. Can’t focus? Get out!
Re-reading a paragraph for the third time and still not getting it? Studies show walking in nature helps to restore mental focus.
6. Lighten up
Light elevates your mood. Unless you live in a glass house, there’s likely to be more natural light available outside. Being outside also tends to make us move more and movement – like sunlight – is associated with improved mood. There’s really no downside!
7. You may actually heal faster
A 2005 University of Pittsburgh study showed spinal surgery patients experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries if they were exposed to natural light. Combining natural light with fresh air and very light exercise (as your healthcare team allows) is a powerful healing tool.
8. Set yourself up for better sleep
The cells in our eyes need enough light to keep our internal clocks running smoothly. Exposure to early morning sunlight seems to help people sleep better at night, especially as we get older and our eyes absorb less light. Heading out for a short hike may help you fall asleep and stay asleep more easily.
9. Nature is a problem solver
Numerous studies have found a correlation between improved problem-solving abilities following time spent in nature. This is especially notable in children. It seems a quick trip outdoors pays big creative dividends.