It’s fair to say that the past year has not been plain sailing for any of us. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world, the UK nation was left with no choice but to spend more time indoors. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Many of us used our free time wisely and took up some new hobbies on our weekends or days off work to help keep our minds and bodies occupied – a lot of which required the outdoors.
From walking to cycling to running, many of us swapped the slippers for a pair of exercise shoes and spent more time outdoors than we most likely would have done if the pandemic didn’t occur. We all know that sport benefits our physical and mental health – but do we know just how good the outdoors is for us? With more time spent in front of screens, here we outline the health perks of taking a break and getting outdoors.
The outdoors is a great encouragement to do exercise. However, reaping the benefits of spending time outside doesn’t always have to be through exercising. There are several key benefits the fresh air has to our physical health.
Over the years, research has suggested that spending time outdoors helps reduce our chances of becoming nearsighted. For children especially, the issue of screen time is becoming a growing concern in today's society. Since spending time outdoors gives our eyes a rest from screens, it helps lower the risk of developing near-sighted conditions such as myopia later on in life.
According to a recent report that involved more than 290 million people, those who live in green spaces are thought to have overall better physical health. For conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and type II diabetes, living in green spaces that expose you more to the outdoors helps lower the risks of these conditions developing.
Naturally, spending time outdoors exposes us to more bacteria and pathogens – all of which play a vital part to build a healthy and strong immune system. Scientists suggest that when breathing in airborne chemicals produced by plants, known as phytoncides, they help to increase our white blood cell levels. Ultimately, this helps our bodies fight off disease and infection.
Other than our physical health, the outdoors helps promote happy and healthy mental health too. But how exactly does it do this? Here, we outline how the outdoors provides many psychological benefits.
Exposure to sunlight helps to keep serotonin levels in your body up. The release of this hormone ultimately helps keep you in a calm, and positive frame of mind as well as improve your energy levels. Other than that, spending time outside often entails some form of physical exercise which in turn, helps relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
You might not even realise it, but spending time outdoors helps to regulate sleeping patterns. Exposing our eyes to natural light helps to get your bodies internal clock working in a ‘schedule’ type way. When we age, our eyes find it more difficult to absorb light. Therefore, to help keep up a healthy and persistent sleeping pattern the older we get, spending time outdoors becomes increasingly important.
Spending more time outside could help those who suffer depression and anxiety to regulate their sleeping patterns better. Since research suggests that anxiety and depression can cause sleeping disorders such as insomnia, spending time outside could help promote a more persistent and full night sleep.
Our frame of mind also impacts how productive and energetic we are. One small scale study suggested that being surrounded by nature and green spaces while exercising could impact how psychologically motivated we are. The research involved cyclists pedalling a bike in front of a grey, red, and green video clip. The results showed that those who exercised in front of the green video clip said they experienced a more positive mood and felt less physically exerted. This implied that areas that include trees, plants, and other nature helps give people the psychological boost they need when working out.
Despite vitamin D being present in foods such as salmon and fortified milk, 90 per cent of our intake is from the sun.
There is an abundance of both physical and mental health benefits attached to vitamin D. It helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, promoting healthy body functions. It also helps to reduce inflammation, support your immune system, and prevent osteoporosis.
When it comes to your mental wellbeing, studies have found a correlation between lower levels of vitamin D to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Even though you can’t book a night away in an Ambleside accommodation to go for a hike in the Lake District, you may have recently purchased a bicycle or just want to spend more time in nature. Without a doubt, being outdoors has substantial benefits on your mental and physical wellbeing. It’s easy to fall into the habit of channel surfing after a long day at work, but putting the remote down and stepping outside for just a few hours can do more good than you realise!