Exercise, spiritual rejuvenation and family fun in the great outdoors
SUMMIT COUNTY —Whether gardening or walking through a forest, most of us love spending time in nature without really knowing why. It gives us a sense of peace and amazement. And something mysterious draws us to the great outdoors as well. One reason may be the numerous health benefits of spending time in nature, which have been proven in several scientific studies.
So what are those benefits?
Stress Reduction – Countless studies have found that spending time outdoors reduces stress. This may in part be due to the fact that it removes us from stressful environments. Taking a walk after a stressful day at work or going on a hiking trip as a weekend retreat helps us think more clearly and look at problems from a distance. Nature’s beauty can also provide a welcome distraction to staring at a computer screen or driving a car all day. Even when we are in stressful situations, a view of nature can be calming. Studies have found that a natural view out a window can improve work performance, speed up patient recovery in hospitals, and improve one’s sense of satisfaction.
Meaning and Purpose – Spending time in nature adds a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. As the seasons change, we see that nature is in a constant state of renewal, just as life brings us something new to look forward to and work towards each day. The orderly chaos through which all life is connected can give us a sense of purpose and belonging in this world. Many people also find spiritual connections with nature, whether celebrating works of a Creator or admiring the complex order of the cycle of life.
Time outdoors has also been used as an integral part of therapy for individuals recovering from personal difficulties. Humans throughout history have found value in nature and looked to it for greater understanding of the world and oneself.
Increased Physical Activity – Spending time outdoors seems to urge us to be more active, to go out and explore, plunge our hands into the earth, or paint a watercolor of the sunset. Physical activity alone produces feel-good endorphins, but exercising outside magnifies that natural high due to the calm and wonder one can feel in nature.
Being active while breathing in the fresh air and seeing beauty all around us will make us more likely to continue spending time outside. This can improve one’s overall physical and mental health, reducing the risk of disease, depression, stress, and other psychological disorders. Research has shown that exercising outside is more beneficial than exercising indoors.
Self-Improvement – The challenges presented by spending time outdoors can improve our sense of worth and achievement. A difficult task such as weeding a garden or hiking to the top of a mountain can give us a sense of fulfillment different from other tasks we face each day. We may come across unexpected obstacles such as fallen trees, poor soil, or animals that keep us open to facing new challenges and accepting change. This in turn can improve our confidence and self-esteem.
As natural environments disappear and fewer children play outside, it is important to realize the many health benefits that nature can have. If you’re feeling down, stressed out, or simply wondering about life’s purpose, try heading into the great outdoors.
This article was written by Erin McKinney, who is a licensed nurse practitioner and lover of the outdoors. Erin also owns the site Masters of Nursing for students interested in getting an advanced degree in the nursing field.