Study after study has shown that time spent outside enjoying nature is beneficial for our physical and mental health. In this article, we’ll go over what we think are the top 10 reasons to get outside and explore the backcountry, whether it’s a warm hike in summer or a snowy day ski touring in the winter.
These benefits don’t just apply to getting into the deep backcountry wilderness. If all you can do is go for a walk in an inner-city park, that’s much better than nothing. You’ll still get the benefits of fresh air and spending time surrounded by nature.
There is a term for what happens to people when you don’t get enough time in nature – Nature Deficit Disorder. If that doesn’t tell you that you need to get outside more, I don’t know what will. It’s a term coined by an American author, and is used to describe the behavioral problems that occur in people that don’t get outside enough. It isn’t a ‘disorder’ in the traditional sense, but is used to describe the negative effects of avoiding the natural world.
Although this area of research is quite new, scientists are beginning to realize that there are many benefits to getting outside. It seems that spending all of your time indoors looking at electronic screens isn’t the best way to live your life.
Get a Break from Technology
Speaking of electronic screens, how many times have you checked your phone for updates today? 5? 50? If you’re like most people these days (myself included), the answer is probably too many. Your brain needs a break from constantly checking your Facebook feed and what’s going on with Instagram.
By doing this constantly day in day out, we’re training our brains to require that stimulus all the time. If we don’t get it, we start to feel angst and stress. It’s good to take a complete break from social media every once in a while, even if only for a day.
The further you can get from urban life and the technology that goes along with it the better. I’ve never felt so refreshed as I do after a few days with no cell service in a hut deep in the backcountry. At first the relative silence might seem strange, but you’ll quickly come to enjoy it.
Exercise Releases Endorphins
Have you ever heard the term runner’s high? Well the ‘high’ they’re talking about comes from endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that are secreted during exercise that make you feel great, and have been shown to help with all kinds of ailments. Read more about the positive effects of endorphins here.
Vitamin D, which is produced in response to our skin absorbing sunlight, is critical for strong bones. It’s used by our bodies to help absorb calcium and many people don’t have enough of it due to spending too much time inside. You can take a Vitamin D supplement, but the best source is that big yellow ball in the sky. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with all kinds of illnesses, so make sure you’re getting enough.
Sunlight Improves Your Sleep Schedule
Along with boosting Vitamin D production, natural light can help regulate our sleep cycles. Every human has a built-in biological clock know as our circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm regulates the timing of all kinds of biological processes (including sleep patterns). Not getting enough natural light can throw your circadian rhythm out of whack. Are you having trouble sleeping lately? Try and get more sun throughout the day and minimize the amount of artificial light you get in the evening.
Lowers stress hormones
Research has shown that spending time in nature is good for the mind and the body and helps reduce stress (source). The combination of exercise, fresh air, and disconnection from technology (in a good way) help to relieve the mind of stress.
In one Dutch study, two groups performed a stressful task. After completing the task, one group was sent to garden and the other read a book indoors. The group that went gardening had measurably lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Amazing!
Improved Heart Health
Although more research is needed, researchers have found that simply being in a forest can improve the health of your heart (and mood). In this study, one group (the control group) went for a walk in an urban environment. The other group went for a walk in the woods.
No big surprise, the group that went for a walk in the woods had improved physiological markers. Their heart rate, blood pressure, and heart rate variability were all better than the control group. Both groups also filled out a questionnaire, and the ‘walk-in-the-woods’ group’s answers indicated lower stress overall.
Improved Brain function
In this study of children with ADHD, the researchers found that the attention of children that spent time in a natural setting improved. Just twenty minutes in a natural setting (a park) was enough to improve their attention performance compared to the control group.
But wait, there’s more! In adults, studies have found that just seeing a bit of nature can improve your focus and productivity. Going for a walk in an urban park, or better yet, in the backcountry, has even better effects. Your mood will improve, your concentration will increase, and, most importantly for some people, your overall stress will be reduced.
Fight Cancer Like a Pro (Improved Immune Function)
Researchers found that nature can help protect you from a wide variety of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, etc. It looks like it’s all related to the natural environment improving immune function. In another study, the results showed that exposure to nature increased the production of anti-cancer proteins. The effects lasted long after the trip to the backcountry, too, so there are lasting benefits.
Exposure to nature improves immune system function in otherwise healthy people, increasing the production of natural killer cells, an important part of our defense against viruses and cancer.
It’s a Lot of Fun!
Last but not least, it’s a lot of fun to simply get outside and enjoy nature, summer or winter. Even if you’re only able to go for a stroll through a park in the city during your lunch break, that is much better than nothing. So grab some friends, your dog, or borrow a dog and get out to the mountains or the forest! Your mind and body will thank you.