Between work, home, school, and other obligations, it can be difficult to find the time to try and enjoy the great outdoors.
For people who live in severe climates with scorching highs and record lows, passing up the brutal weather for an evening by the fireplace is wonderful—but only in small doses.
Recent studies focused on the infatuation with the indoor lifestyle have shown that there are several reasons you need to go outside—and not just for the fresh air.
Taking a hike and enjoying whatever nature is nearest you can have radical effects on your mental health, physical performance, and cognitive abilities.
Here are just five reasons science gives us to head outside and enjoy the world around us:
Restoring Your Mind
As crazy as it may sound, spending time outdoors has been linked to a restorative process in your brain and is known as Attentional Restoration Theory (ART).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ART can be expressed as a framework in which urban environments are tied a dramatic increase of stimulation and stress derived from such stimuli. Likewise, natural environments benefit from what’s called “soft fascination” and captures attention without increasing stimulation to the point of stress and fatigue.
Long story short—nature is not only beautiful but scientifically proven to decrease stimuli and reduce stress in the body.
The study goes on to discuss how—when comparing those who interacted with nature against those who did not—the nature group performed better on average during attention-based tasks than their urban counterparts. While counterintuitive, taking a break and heading outdoors could result in more productivity—not less.
2. Seeing Green
Also discussed in the National Institutes of Health study is the concept of “green space,” and the fascinating connection between exposure to green in the environment and stress levels.
Exposure and proximity to green space have been shown to decrease overall stress—as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The cognitive ability of children with attention and stress disorders also increased after prolonged exposure to the outdoors.
For those with an inability to travel long distances to scenic hikes or lack the financial means to do so, seeing green at your park or local vista could yield similar results—so don’t count yourself out just yet.
While mountains, rivers, and lakes may be preferable, this section of the study is focused solely on the color green. The amount of exposure to color has always had a profound impact on our ability to work (think of the association of blue with insomnia), so getting in that extra time in green space is essential.
3. Vitamin D
Of course, probably the most-cited reason to head outside is to increase exposure to vitamin D.
Vitamin D is hard to find naturally in most foods—so spending enough time outside to get your daily dose will help to improve those symptoms. Overexposure to the sun will, of course, cause a litany of problems from sunburns to skin cancer, so try to limit your exposure somewhat or bring along some sunscreen.
With proper protection, there’s no harm in staying outside as long as the suns out. Your immune system will undoubtedly be grateful for the change in environment.
4. Depression Prevention
While we sincerely hope this is never a problem for you if you find yourself suffering from prolonged bouts of anxiety, stress, and depression, heading outside and enjoying some time away can have a real impact on your mental health.
The NIH has reported that overall mood is positively affected in those who spend more time outdoors than others who don’t. Our first cited NIH study also showed a deep correlation between green space and the reduction of stress and anxiety—which can be either underlying causes or outright symptoms of depression.
Only, a medically trained professional will be able to correctly diagnose and present a treatment for you if you’re experiencing dangerous thoughts, or feel an inability to improve your mood over the course of two weeks or more.
Even with proper treatment, those with chronic depression, seasonal depression, or even those having a bad day can look to improve their mood by disconnecting and going on a short hike.
Finally, the most obvious and perhaps best benefit of taking more time in the great outdoors would be the general improvement of the body physically.
Hikes—and especially mountain hikes—often involve traversing steep and weaving terrain and include elevation changes that will challenge your lungs, core, and endurance.
Motivating yourself to switch to hiking instead of spending a day inside can bring about positive changes that couldn’t be brought out from treadmills or ellipticals or even the best rowing machines for home use.
Considered alongside the mental, immune, and other benefits of staying outdoors, it’s difficult to see any real downside—apart from a sunburn.
While the physical benefits of hiking and going outside and clear and self-evident, the mental benefits make up the majority of our list—and for a good reason. The ability to renew your mind without doctors appointments or expensive purchases for free seems like a lifestyle choice many would want to make.
Of course, many strenuous hikes will not be possible for those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, or those recovering from past illnesses. Be sure to clear your increased physical activity with your doctor, and try asking about ways to limit prescription pickups to allow more time for your newfound hobby.
If possible, seek out a prescription delivery service like Medly Pharmacy to get your prescriptions delivered right to your door.
However, you manage your time, make sure you spend enough time preparing for an exhausting day of hiking and get outside and as far from technology as possible.
Your body will thank you—and your mind as well.
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