Even with the snow flurries, chilly temperatures and brisk spring winds, the great outdoors beckons us to come outside and enjoy the wide-open spaces, vast skies and fresh mountain air. Spending time outdoors and in nature is enjoyable. But, did you know there is evidence that proves spending time outside can make you happier and healthier? Here are just a few reasons to go outside:
Nature Decreases Stress
Being in a natural environment provides a feeling of relaxation that reduces anxiety and stress. In fact, just seeing pictures of nature can help reduce stress and bring a sense of calm. Additionally, the scent of many plants such as lavender, jasmine, lilacs and roses are proven to calm and relax the mind and body. The scent of fresh pine has even been shown to lower depression and anxiety.
Nature Eases Depression
Doing activities in nature naturally lifts the mood, decreases depression and anxiety, and brings a sense of peace. A University of Michigan study links nature walks to better overall mental health and positivity, fewer feelings of depression and stress, and a reduction in anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications. The study also showed that people who exercised outdoors had a lower risk of poor mental health than those who exercised indoors.
Nature Restores Brain Function
Interacting with nature gives your brain a break from everyday overstimulation, which translates into a restorative effect. Whether it is extreme sports, gardening or neighborhood walks, nature provides passive stimulation, which allows the brain’s energy to recover and replenish, much like recharging a battery. The simple act of a casual stroll or tending a garden can yield amazing results, without much thought or energy required.
Nature Increases Focus, Concentration
A study published by the National Institutes of Health says children who play outside at least once a day are more focused and have better concentration skills than those who remain indoors for long periods of time. The same can be said of adults. Have a difficult task or decision or trouble concentrating? Perhaps some outdoor time will lift the fog and bring clarity.
Nature Helps You Age Gracefully
Getting outside daily helps people stay healthy and functioning longer. The Journal of Aging Health reports that people age 70 or older who regularly spend time outdoors have fewer health-related complaints than those who do not go outside each day. Numerous studies suggest gardening can help dementia and stroke patients live a higher quality of life by instilling confidence while increasing mobility and dexterity.
Nature Makes Exercise Easier
Research conducted at the University of Essex found the color green, such as the green found in trees, grass and other plants, makes exercise feel easier. Exercising outdoors has benefits over the gym – people who run or cycle outside exert more energy than those on treadmills or stationary bikes, most say they enjoy outside exercise more and, consequently, do it more regularly and for longer periods.
Nature Promotes a Healthy Immune System
Getting enough Vitamin D, which naturally comes from the sun, is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. And breathing fresh air, especially when exerting yourself, helps stimulate the body to produce illness-fighting white blood cells and prevent sickness.
Nature Can Improve Your Sleep
Sleep patterns, regulated by the body’s internal clock called circadian rhythm, are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time inside away from natural light can alter our circadian rhythms, resulting in poor sleep patterns. Want to sleep when it is dark? Get outside when it is light.
The Bottom Line
Spending time outdoors is good for you, increasing happiness and health and inducing an overall sense of wellbeing. And, living in Northern Arizona makes enjoying nature easy – just step outside. FBN
By Samantha Buchika, M.D.
Samantha Buchika, M.D., is a board-certified anesthesiologist with Forest Country Anesthesia, specializing in outpatient surgery. As an amateur adventurer, she spends much of her time outdoors hiking, biking, swimming, skiing and more, which fuel her appreciation for the importance of natural environments in improving and maintaining health and wellbeing. Dr. Buchika made Flagstaff her home in 1998, relocating from the New England area. She is married, has two stepsons and two border collies.
Forest Country Anesthesia providers perform more than 16,000 anesthetic procedures each year in all areas of anesthesiology, including cardiovascular, neurosurgery, obstetrics, orthopedics and pediatrics, across five facilities in Northern Arizona. To learn more about Dr. Buchika and Forest Country Anesthesia, visit ForestCountryAnesthesia.com or call 928-773-2505.