4 Ways Spending Time Outdoors Can Change Your Health

Girl hiking outside with backpack and in the woods or wilderness.

Whether it’s a summer hike or a winter ski trip, getting outdoors and spending time in nature is, undoubtedly, rejuvenating. But you may be surprised to learn that spending time outdoors is more than just a simple hack for relaxation; it can also benefit your health in numerous ways, and challenges both your brain and body. How, you ask? These are four unique ways in which spending time outdoors can positively impact your health.

Exercise becomes easier.

A 2012 study conducted by the University of Essex found that the association of green colors in nature — such as trees, woods, and forests — made exercise and various physical activities easier to perform. Participants in the study reported feeling less strain and tension while engaging in physical activity outdoors. A similar 2011 study from the University of Exeter purported that, while working out or being physically active outdoors, participants had an increased sense and state of mental wellbeing, with greater intent of repeating their workout outdoors than, say, hitting the gym. With a healthier mind and body in reach, there’s little to lose by taking your run from the treadmill to the trail!

Your brain function increases.

While some have claimed that spending time outdoors can have the same “pick me up” effects as a cup of coffee, studies have shown that simply immersing yourself in nature can also have a positive impact on creative thinking, just as it can help with the management of ADD and ADHD symptoms. A 2004 study reported that children who spent more time playing outdoors showed fewer symptoms of ADHD than others. Paired with exercise and physical activity, being outdoors may also decrease one’s risk of depression while spurring on feelings of happiness and elation.

You’ll get that much-needed dose of Vitamin D.

Research has shown that, unlike many other vitamins, Vitamin D may have protective effects against everything from depression and cancer to osteoporosis and various heart conditions. It is believed that Vitamin D production is affected by age, which means our bodies naturally produce less of this vitamin as we grow older. The great news? Getting your much-needed dose of Vitamin D is simple thanks to the great outdoors! Spending just 10-15 minutes outside a few times per week can allow your body to absorb the Vitamin D it needs, which is particularly good for bone health (a general concern for many as we age).

It’s the secret to aging gracefully (and happily).

From reduced stress levels to increased states of happiness, spending time outdoors can have a positive effect on the way we age. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine reported an increase in human immune function after time spent outdoors; similarly, a 2008 study from the Journal of Aging and Health showed that older individuals who spend more time outdoors remained healthy and independent for a longer time than those who don’t. Moreover, being outdoors also makes you happy, which is a key component to aging well. Research has shown that people are happier and more connected to both themselves and the environment when spending time outdoors, and additional studies have reported increases in self-esteem after performing physical activity outside. As spending time outdoors reduces stress and anxiety, there is also the notion that immersing yourself in nature can produce a natural “high,” which increases happiness and helps you to age more gracefully. Other research has suggested that people feel refreshed and rejuvenated after spending time outdoors. Plus, certain outdoor activities may play a role in decreasing one’s risk of dementia.

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