Getting some fresh air and outdoor exercise has broad health benefits for your physical and mental health. Whether you pursue an outdoor sport or just take a walk, getting outside will help you feel, work, and sleep better.
Physical Benefits of Outdoor Activities
Getting outside into a green space lowers stress, reduces the risk of heart attack and strokes, and reduces blood pressure. It also decreases the risk of asthma, diabetes, and allergies, and it can increase life expectancy. Getting outside can even reduce inflammation, which contributes to autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer. Outdoor activity can improve vision—eyestrain from viewing computers and nearsightedness improve with exposure to natural light and the opportunity to focus on something farther away than your screens.
Getting out from under those fluorescent office lights and into the sun also gets you a good dose of vitamin D, which is essential to strong bones and healthy joints. It also helps adjust your “circadian rhythm.” Artificial lighting can mess with your body’s natural sleep patterns. Going camping outdoors for a weekend and experiencing the natural schedule of sunrise and sunset can reset your rhythm and get you back on a better sleep schedule.
The Japanese culture even has a name for getting out into nature: “Shinrin yoku,” or “forest bathing.” Studies proved that this practice improves immune function. The results were such that some doctors in the UK are now writing “nature prescriptions,” promoting outdoor activities. According to the New York Times, the Swedes have made getting outdoors, or “frilufsliv,” (living close to nature) such a part of their lives that they have incentivized the lifestyle with tax breaks, and South Korea is establishing special forests for citizens to get out and enjoy.
Mental Health Benefits
Among the benefits of outdoor activities are improvements in mental health. Getting outdoors reduces stress. It gets you away from your devices and your worries for a while, and it can improve focus, so you feel refreshed and more productive when you get back to the office. A study out of Stanford University showed that walking outdoors reduced activity in the part of the brain linked to depression. The sights and sounds of nature also had a soothing effect for anxiety sufferers.
Unless you really want to get into it, you don’t have to engage in extreme outdoor sports to benefit from the burst of endorphins known as the “runner’s high.” You can get that burst of buzz from moderate exercise too. Even competitive mountain bikers recognize that it’s nice to ride just because you want to. Snowboarding and skateboarding started out as just for fun actives as well. Overall, outdoor activity boosts creativity, helps concentration and focus, and improves short term memory.
Many outdoor sports are great for groups, and groups provide social connections and a sense of community, which are important to your mental health. Join a pick-up soccer team, or create a regular meet-up with friends for a walk or a hike. De-stressing in natural environments can adjust your perspective and your priorities, helping you improve your interpersonal relationships.
The bottom line: getting outside is fun, healthy, and a great break from screens, stress, and stale indoor air. So, gear up and get out there.