9 Life Changing Things That Happen To You When You Get Outside More


If you’re like most, you probably feel better after getting outside. But did you know that science actually backs that up? Research has found that spending time outdoors can actually make you healthier, whether you head to the mountains, the beach, a lake or the woods. Getting outside helps your body, as well as your brain.

1. You’ll have better short-term memory

In a study conducted by the University of Michigan, students were given a short memory test before being divided into two separate groups. One group went for a walk down a city street, while the other took a stroll around an arboretum. When they returned, both groups took the test again, and those who had walked among the trees did nearly 20% better than they did the first time. The other group didn’t see any consistent improvement.

Researchers concluded that spending time in nature was able to boost working memory more than walking through an urban environment. It’s not the first study to discover this, and many people know firsthand that they tend to recharge better when relaxing in a natural setting, as compared to a busy city street.

2. You may age more gracefully

Research conducted in 2008 by Jerusalem, Israel’s Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center found that getting outside every day may help older people stay healthy and enjoy a higher quality of life for longer. Study participants who spent time outdoors on a daily basis had fewer complaints like aching bones and sleep issues among other health-related problems, as compared to those who didn’t.

Spending time outdoors also helps to lessen stress, and as stress can contribute to premature aging, it offers double the benefit when it comes to aging more gracefully. Another benefit is weight loss – and as we age, it can be tough to maintain an ideal weight. That’s because being outside makes exercise feel easier and more enjoyable – which means you’re more likely to get moving outdoors, and for a longer period of time. Even if you aren’t actually trying to exercise, some outdoor elements, like mountains, can contribute directly to weight loss. In fact, just spending time in high altitude elevations can help one shed pounds as the higher elevation is known to boost the metabolism and even reduce hunger cravings.

3. You’ll feel happier

Getting outdoors and spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, according to research published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. That’s because in addition to decreasing stress, it offers a shift toward a more positive mood, with the theory behind it being that we naturally respond more positively to something that’s good for us. Furthermore, daylight tends to elevate one’s mood, and unless you happen to live in a glass house, you’ll probably get more sunlight outside than you would indoors.

Richard Ryan, lead author and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester noted, “Nature is fuel for the soul. Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”

4. You might heal faster

In 2005, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh reported that patients who underwent spinal surgery experienced less pain and took fewer pain medications during recovery when exposed to natural sunlight.

If you’re able to get outside in the sun and work in a garden, it may offer even greater healing effects, according to research published in the Scientific American.

Clare Cooper Marcus, an emeritus professor in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, told the publication, “Spending time interacting with nature in a well-designed garden won’t cure your cancer or heal a badly burned leg. But there is good evidence it can reduce your levels of pain and stress—and, by doing that, boost your immune system in ways that allow your own body and other treatments to help you heal.”

5. You’ll boost your vitamin D levels

There’s a reason vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin – that’s because when sunlight hits the skin, it starts what’s known as the circuitous process which leads to the biologically active form of the vitamin. Vitamin D plays an important role in our health, with its major function to help maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. It helps the body to absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones.

This is a nutrient that can be challenging to get enough of strictly from foods, because so few naturally carry it, so most of us get between 80 to 90 percent of this vitamin from the rays of the sun, according to Dr. Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at the Boston University Medical Center who has studied and published on vitamin D for decades.

Holick says that even if you’re eating a healthy diet, there’s still a good chance you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Without a sufficient amount of the vitamin, you may be missing out on protective benefits against everything from cancer and depression to heart attacks and strokes. But, the good news is that all you need to do to ensure your body is making its own vitamin D is to get outside in the sun for about 15 minutes at least a few days a week.

One caveat is that most sunscreens effectively block UVB light, which is the part of the spectrum that causes sunburn, but it’s also the type that triggers the generation of vitamin D in the skin. That means, you’ll need to get some limited time outdoors in the sun without sunscreen, like going for a short, 15-minute walk. You’ll still want to be diligent about liberally using sunscreen when you’re outside for an extended period of time, however,

6. You’ll be doing something good for your heart

Japanese scientists have been reporting on the health and stress-relieving benefits of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, for decades now. Researchers have found that the practice of going for a walk in the forest can lower blood pressure, pulse and heart rate variability as well as reduce stress hormone levels. These benefits all support good heart health.

Numerous studies have found that exercising in the forest as well as simply gazing at the trees has the ability to reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Just looking at pictures of trees has similar, though much less dramatic effects. And, because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress benefits of forests, and the resulting heart health benefits, are further magnified.

7. You’ll lower inflammation in your body

Inflammation plays a role in a wide range of health conditions, including things like arthritis and appendicitis – diseases with “itis” at the end which form the names of specific inflammatory conditions. There are many other health issues that can be triggered at least in part by inflammation too, like heart disease, autoimmune disorders, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and even obesity.

While inflammation is a natural process the body uses to respond to threats like an injury such as a stubbed toe, and pathogens, like when you’re exposed to the flu, when it goes into overdrive, that’s when problems can occur.

Fortunately, spending time outdoors in nature can help keep that inflammation in check. Researchers from Zhejiang Hospital & Zhejiang Provincial Key Lab of Geriatrics in China found that when students spent time in the forest, they had lower levels of inflammation as compared to students who spent time in the city. In another study, elderly patients were sent on a week-long trip into the forest. When they returned, they showed reduced signs of inflammation as well as positive effects on hypertension.

Furthermore, while you’re out in the sun getting that daily dose of vitamin D, that also helps to reduce inflammation. That’s because when you’re injured or are fighting off a flu bug, the immune system responds with inflammation, as noted earlier. That’s the good type of inflammation that helps to heal a wound or battle an infection. Once it’s been successful, your fever goes away, or the wound heals. Vitamin D is an important part of that process as it tells the immune system to “turn off” the inflammatory response when the work is done.

8. You’ll experience renewed mental energy

You know that feeling. You’ve been hard at work, focusing on getting a project done and suddenly it seems like your brain just won’t do its job anymore. That’s called mental fatigue, and one of the best ways to get your mind going again is to get outside.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that mental fatigue can be overcome, and mental energy renewed by spending time outdoors in nature, and even just by looking at pictures of nature – although, you’ve got to think that the effects would be greater by actually feeling those warm rays on your skin, breathing in fresh air and listening to the sounds of birds singing.

You probably don’t need researchers to tell you that standing in awe of nature’s glorious beauty, like marveling at a glistening lake or an idyllic beach at the edge of a cerulean sea, is a great way to get a mental boost, though experts have proven scientifically that it does.

9. You’ll have a better chance for a longer life

The health effects of being outdoors in “green space,” seem nearly endless. Dutch researchers found that a wide range of diseases tended to be less prevalent among those who live near green space, and other studies have directly associated spending time in the forest, as noted earlier, as contributing to better overall health. While researchers haven’t yet directly proved a link between easy access to the great outdoors and a longer, healthier life, the evidence such as reduced stress and better heart health would naturally boost longevity.

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