Humans are designed to spend time outdoors. We are human animals — not separate from nature, but part of it. Period. End of story.
Somewhere along the way many of us forgot this. Maybe our first disconnect from Mother Nature started subtly with the invention of written language. It was certainly helped along quite a bit by the advent of agriculture and the development of modern cities. The digital age has only made things worse.
Now we are seeing a surge in health and phycological issues that no modern drug or therapy can cure. Depression and ADHD are on the rise. Kids now report more stress, anxiety and depression than we’ve seen in past generations. What can we do?
One solution might be as simple as spending time in nature, as much as possible. Maybe it starts as just a few longer walks with your dog. Maybe it’s a weekend hike, starting once in a while, becoming every week without fail. Or maybe it’s a 6-month around-the-world backpacking trip. It’s your choice, but it must be made a priority if you take your health and happiness seriously.
The benefits of time spent outdoors are numerous. Here are some highlights:
Awe and wonder inspires creativity
Being in nature is one of the primary ways humans are surprised, inspired and consistently awed. It’s no wonder that artists throughout history have found nature their primary muse (or possibly second to nude women). Nature has the potential to constantly surprise us with her never-ending beauty and intelligence. The sense of awe we feel is an important part of remaining happy humans, but it’s also essential as inspiration for any creative endeavour we undertake. Certainly much of the best art reflects nature, but likewise, some of our most useful inventions and technological achievements are also based on biological structures or inspired by natural processes.
Spending time outdoors will keep you interested and feed your creativity. But if you need more help getting inspired, read this REI article about rekindling your sense of awe outside.
Lower Stress and depression, More overall happiness
Studies show that those living closer to parks and other green spaces report less stress and depression in the daily lives. Other studies show that when subjects spent on average 30 minutes a day outdoors, they reported more wellbeing, energy, happiness, and better sleep, while seeing a drop in stress. But don’t worry about scientific studies to decide what’s right for you. If you are feeling at all depressed, the best thing to do is just get outdoors now! Go for a walk. Take off your shoes. Listen to the sounds around you. Hug a tree if so inclined.
Exposure to a greater variety of plants and other living creatures can help your body develop greater immunity and more overall resilience. So get your hands and feet dirty! Pick the flowers and explore the mushrooms and insects. It’ll make you healthier in the long run.
Improved Brain health
Maybe it’s just the peace and quite or maybe there is something deeper, more biological happening when we engage with the outdoors. Either way, studies show that memory, attention, creativity and cognition are all improved with more time spent in nature. It’s no wonder that slowing down and living in the moment might help you better remember things and open pathways to greater creative thinking.
We all love the warmth of direct sunlight, but it’s far more than just that. There’s no better way to get the vitamin D we need to stay healthy and happy without a daily dose of sun. Sunlight and Vitamin D help boost our immunity, improves sleep, and keeps our bones strong.
Fresh air is life
City dwellers know this well. Breathing smog is no fun. But the air in any city or town can’t compare to that glorious fresh oxygen found amongst the trees. Trees, after all, are what take the carbon dioxide we exhale and turn it back into oxygen for us to breathe. Nothing is more refreshing and revitalizing than some deep breaths taken far away from human development, high up a mountainside or deep in the woods.
Slows us down, connects us
One benefit to spending time in nature is simply to take a break from our everyday life. Especially if we live in a city, we may not realize how our faced-paced routine is harming our health. Being outdoors slows us down, helps us live in the present moment and allows our bodies to recalibrate to the pace of the natural world. The more time we spend outdoors the better we can connect with the circadian rhythms that help guide our sleep and productivity. Not only that, but if we bump into an animal (or tree) during our time spent in nature, we’re connecting with a piece of the more-than-human world that may be able to nourish us in ways science has yet to uncover.
Time spent outdoors tends to open us up to everything outside us, to things different than ourselves. By getting out of our heads, away from our never-ending thoughts, time in nature also allows us connect better with other people. The sense of connection you may feel might be multi-faceted.
Increased spiritual connection
Studies show that being in nature produces brain waves that are similar to those you experience while meditating. Not only that, but many consider Nature to be their church and time spent outdoors a spiritual practice in and of itself. No matter your beliefs, time spent outdoors has been seen by cultures throughout history as one of the primary ways we can connect to our spiritual life. There must be something to it! Fasting, vision quests and other nature-based practices have been part of countless spiritual traditions. Even something as simple a walk in the woods, at the right time and place, can have a profound spiritual impact.