Most of us have been spending more time outdoors than usual. Thanks to Covid-19. And perhaps, whilst the pandemic has thrown most of us sideways. A rekindled love or acceptance of nature may be among one of the few positives we’ve had over the past year. We’ve known the benefits of nature for our overall health. Both physical and mental. For what seems like forever. And yet, it’s something that we take for granted. But why?
Is it because in our fast-paced world we don’t have or make the time? Are we so obsessed with luxury that we can no longer see the wood for the trees? Pun very much intended. Do we live in a place where the weather is unpredictable at best or potentially dangerous at worst? Are we so wrapped up in other health trends that we’ve abandoned the green areas available to us? Or do we need some convincing of the benefits to get us moving and outdoors?
If you need more convincing about the positives nature can have on our overall wellbeing. I’ve compiled a list of research and studies to help nudge you out the front door.
- Those that spend over 2 hours, and up to 5 hours, in nature report consistently higher health and wellbeing levels.
- Rhythmic exercise, essentially anything focus on a repetitive movement e.g. running, can have a calming effect and help reduce blood pressure, increase heart rate and reduce levels of our stress hormone cortisol.
- No matter your age, those who spend more time outside have higher levels of self-esteem and report better coping with the stresses of life.
- Walking can help improve the quality of our sleep by improving our mood as well as our immune system
- Vitamin D, absorbed from the sun, is imperative for healthy bones, strong immune system and helping boost our mood. In the UK, it is suggested that during the winter months all adults take a Vitamin D supplement for this reason.
- The sounds of nature or even outdoor silence can help lower blood pressure and our stress hormone cortisol thereby calming our body’s fight, flight or freeze response.
- Having nice scenery to look at can distract us from negative thought patterns. And studies show that looking at fractal patterns in nature can reduce stress levels by up to 60%. It seems to occur due to a physiological resonance within the eye.
Read our top 10 tips for a good night’s sleep here.
What about those who can’t access nature?
It’s not all or nothing when it comes to nature. Listening to nature sounds, as many of us may do to calm down or to help us sleep. Or looking at pictures of nature can still have a positive effect. A report published by Scientific Reports in March 2018 found that listening to natural sounds caused listeners’ brains to mimic brain connectivity found during periods of daydreaming and other restful activities. The sounds, although artificial or recorded, helped provide calm and lower stress.
Getting Out the Door
Hopefully the reasons above have convinced you of the benefits of getting outdoors. But if you still need that extra push, it may be worth thinking about what is holding you back. Is it a lack of time? Perhaps you can work outdoor time into your schedule instead of adding it to your to-do list. Could you get off the bus or train a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way? Or park that bit further away from your destination? Or even walk, jog or run to wherever you need to be? Could you exercise indoors instead of outdoors and combine the benefits of exercise and nature? Do you have hobbies you could do outdoors? Or arrange to see friends or family in an outdoor venue?
If time isn’t an issue, perhaps it’s a dislike of the outdoors? A lack of appropriate weather during the year, disillusion with the benefits or an access problem. If you don’t enjoy outdoor time, see the list below for some fun suggestions. If weather or access are a problem. Consider pictures of nature and nature sounds as a substitute. You could invest in some nature photos or artwork. Set a favourite photo as your phone or desktop background. And listen to nature sounds online via Youtube or various other apps. And hopefully, after having read this blog, disillusionment with the benefits of nature will no longer be a problem.
Ideas for Spending Time in Nature
- Parks or woodland areas are a great way to spend time outdoors. Just 20 minutes can give you that much needed mood boost. Whether you’re walking around, sitting on a bench or the grass. Alone, socializing or engaged in other hobbies.
- Animals and Birdwatching are great ways to keep busy or entertained whilst outdoors. Whether it’s wild deer in a local deerpark, an outdoor zoo or farm, bird-watching in the wild or a venue with a butterfly house or aviary.
- Loads of exercise can be done outside. Whether walking, jogging and running. Playing team sports or tennis with one other person. There may be outdoor classes for yoga, martial arts etc. in your local area. Or a walking or running group. Perhaps you have access to an outdoor swimming pool or climbing wall?
- Think about what hobbies can be done outside when the weather is good. Could you read or write outside without being distracted? Would listening to music, a podcast or meditating work? Are you able to do various forms or art like painting, sketching, collaging or knitting outdoors?
- Pets are another great way of getting us outside especially if we have a dog. But other pets will also enjoy being outside too. Can you watch your cat roam your garden? Or put your rabbit in an outdoor run and let it do it’s thing? Is it safe to have a smaller pet on your lap without it getting lost?
Read our 7 top tips for exercise motivation here.
What are your thoughts about the impact of nature on your mental health? Have you noticed an improvement in mood or overall wellbeing? How do you build outdoor time into your schedule? And what are your favourite outdoorsy activities? Let us know below!