As children, we were told to go play outside. But for so many of us, and especially during this pandemic time, we have evolved to spend most of our days indoors. Despite the coziness of a cup of tea and warm blanket, the weather is shifting, nature is calling, and it’s time to get outside!
The benefits of regular activity are well documented for both physical and mental health, and research is now pointing to the additional benefit we get when we are active in nature. Whether a hike in the woods, or a stroll along the beach, the fresh air brings its own benefits, and research would suggest that they are quite profound.
So often we hear people say that after going outside they “just feel better”, and sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly why. Many of the physical benefits of exercise, for example, the positive impact on our heart, lungs, and muscles, are similar when comparing activity done indoors versus outdoors. Rather, it is the mental benefits that seem to be enhanced when we are outdoors. Activity in nature has been shown to down-regulate the nervous system, helping to support parasympathetic activity or our rest-and-digest state. This makes us feel more relaxed, enhances our mood, and supports our overall wellbeing.
Japanese research in the area of forest bathing has also observed a positive impact on immune function from being among the trees. While the link is not fully understood, it appears that there are natural wood oils released from plants and trees that can enhance immune function.
As we move further into the spring, think about ways that you can incorporate time in nature into your regular routine. Perhaps explore a new trail, feel your feet in the sand, or walk a new path or route with your dog. Whatever it is that you chose, breathe in the fresh air, take in your surroundings, and notice the difference it makes to your day.