Have you noticed how much better you feel after spending time outside? Would you believe that it isn’t just a feeling? It turns out that there are many real benefits of spending time in nature for your physical, cognitive, and mental health. It’s all backed up by scientific studies (see the references at the bottom of this post).
In this post, we will explore a few of the many benefits of getting outside. Those benefits include reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and improving cognition. As we study and learn more we keep finding more reasons to get out into nature. Let’s get started.
Reduced stress and anxiety
We know that spending time in nature has stress-reducing and anxiety-reducing effects. According to one study, spending only 20 minutes in nature can significantly lower stress levels (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008). Another study found that people who took a 90-minute walk in nature had less anxiety and higher self-esteem than those who walked in the city. (Bratman, Hamilton, Hahn, Daily, & Gross, 2015).
This is probably because nature provides a sense of calm and relaxation. The sights and sounds of nature help to distract our minds from negative thoughts and worry. Peaceful surroundings also help to promote a sense of well-being (Berman et al., 2008). Nature also provides a sense of awe and wonder. That has positive effects on mental health by reducing stress and increasing feelings of happiness and contentment. (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).
Spending time in nature has been shown to have positive effects on mood and well-being. In one study, the participants who spent time in green spaces reported lower levels of depression and anxiety. They also had higher levels of overall well-being (Barton & Pretty, 2010). Another study associated outdoor exercises, such as hiking or biking, with increased feelings of revitalization, positive engagement, and decreased feelings of tension, anger, and fatigue (Booth & Lonsdale, 2008).
If you are looking for ways to improve your mood consider incorporating nature into your daily life. This can be as simple as taking a walk in a local park, spending time in your backyard, or getting some houseplants. So next time you’re feeling down, consider getting outside and immersing yourself in the beauty of the natural world. Your mood (and overall well-being) will thank you.
Mental Health Benefits of Getting Outside by UNC Health
Increased physical activity
This isn’t likely to be a surprise but getting outside can be a great way to increase physical activity and improve your health. We all could use more physical activity but going to the gym sucks. Luckily research shows that exercising outdoors is more enjoyable than indoor exercise. This can make it more likely for people to stick with it and do it more often (Booth & Lonsdale, 2008). As an extra bonus the natural surroundings of outdoor environments can provide a motivating sense of adventure and excitement. That can be very motivating for physical activity. (Biddle, Asare, & Mutrie, 2011)
Not convinced yet? One study found that people living in neighborhoods with more green spaces and parks had higher levels of physical activity compared to those who lived in other neighborhoods (Casper & Jackson, 2012). This suggests that having easy access to nature can be an important factor in promoting physical activity.
Next time you’re looking to add some physical activity to your day, consider heading outside and exploring the natural world. Whether you go for a hike in the mountains, a bike ride through the countryside, or just a walk in a local park, getting active in nature is a great way to exercise.
If you are anything like me you struggle to get enough quality sleep. Luckily studies show that spending time outdoors has positive effects on sleep quality. One study found that exposure to natural light during the day led to better sleep quality and longer sleep duration at night. (Barger, Sullivan, & Vaughn, 2013). Another found that spending time in natural environments, such as parks and forests, was associated with increased sleep efficiency and decreased sleep disturbances. (Li, Li, & Morishita, 2016).
One possible reason for the sleep-promoting effects of nature is that it can help to relax the mind and body. The sights and sounds of nature can provide a sense of calm and tranquility. This can be especially helpful for winding down before bedtime (Barger et al., 2013). In addition, the fresh air and natural surroundings of outdoor environments can help to promote a sense of well-being, which can contribute to better sleep (Li et al., 2016).
If you want to get more, and better, sleep get out and spend some time in nature. I would recommend spending a few nights camping if you have the opportunity. Sleeping in nature is an amazing way to get your sleep rhythms in order. If you can’t do that even a walk in the park will help.
Improved cognition and creativity
Studies have shown that spending time in nature has positive effects on cognitive function and creativity. In one study people who took a nature walk reported increased performance in a creative task compared to those who took a walk in the city (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Another study found that children who spent time in natural environments had improved attention spans and cognitive development compared to those who spent less time in nature (Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001).
One possible reason for the cognitive-enhancing effects of nature is that it provides a sense of inspiration and can help to stimulate the mind. The beauty and variety of nature provide a sense of awe and wonder. These feelings have many positive effects on mental health, including increased feelings of happiness and contentment (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). The peaceful surroundings of nature provide a sense of calm and relaxation, which helps clear the mind and enhances creativity (Mayer & Frantz, 2004).
So if you want to boost your cognition and creativity, consider spending some time in nature. Immersing yourself in the beauty of the natural world can be a great way to stimulate your mind and enhance your cognitive function.
This was a lot of information but there is a lot more to learn about the benefits of spending time in nature. If you haven’t yet, I recommend watching the short video above. In addition, we have included some highly recommended books to go even deeper below.
Your Guide to Forest Bathing (Expanded Edition): Experience the Healing Power of Nature Simply being present in the natural world, with all of our senses fully alive, can have a remarkably healing effect. It can also awaken in us our latent but profound connection with all living things. This is “forest bathing,” a practice inspired by the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku. It is a gentle, meditative approach to being with nature and an antidote to our nature-starved lives that can heal our relationship with the more-than-human world.
Spending time outdoors has many awesome benefits for our mental and physical health. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve our mood, increase physical activity, improve sleep, and even boost brain power. The natural world provides a refreshing break from the daily grind and can help to relax the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
With all these benefits, it makes sense to make time for outdoor activities every day. Your mind and body will thank you! With a little bit of planning you can enjoy all that the great outdoors has to offer and get some great health benefits as well.
We will see you outdoors!
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.
Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212.
Biddle, S. J., Asare, M., & Mutrie, N. (2011). Psychology of physical activity: Determinants, well-being and interventions. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Booth, M. L., & Lonsdale, C. (2008). The effects of outdoor education on the well-being of primary school children: An investigation using the children’s happiness questionnaire. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(3), 309-323.
Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 138, 41-50.
Casper, M. L., & Jackson, R. B. (2012). Built environments and obesity in disadvantaged populations. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42(4), 439-445.
Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98(2), 310-357.
Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17(2), 297-314.
Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(4), 503-515.
Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2001). Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings. Environment and Behavior, 33(1), 54-77.
By Summer and Bill
Summer and Bill are the dynamic duo behind Adventureite.com, a blog dedicated to inspiring others to explore the great outdoors. With a combined lifetime of experience traveling and adventuring across America, they have a wealth of knowledge to share. From hiking to camping, kayaking to travel, Summer and Bill are passionate about helping others discover the beauty of the natural world.