Can Being Outside Make You Feel Better?
It finally happened! I took a whole week off from work and had a wonderful time visiting old friends, hanging out with family and being outside!
The biggest outside adventure of my vacation was a two-day exploration into the San Bernardino Mountains. Overnighting in Big Bear City, a mountain city here in Southern California known for its ski slopes in the winter. In the summer there are hiking trails and the ski slopes in the area are open to mountain bikers - a really a wonderful way to spend time outside!
Ever since I can remember, I have always preferred being outside over being inside. As a child, it just always felt like best place to be. And as I became an adult, I followed my dream to work with animals, so being outside was built in to my career and daily routine.
I will completely admit; I have always assumed the value of being outside was understood by all. However, as I work to connect people to wildlife and nature, I see that our modern culture has disrupted that connection. It has in fact taken us humans away from the outdoors and kept us indoors longer and longer. And it stands to reason that this shift away from time spent outdoors has negative consequences on us.
Sure, I can say I feel better on days that I am outside more than inside. I can say, I long to be outside on days that meetings and email and more meetings keep me indoors from sunrise to sunset. But do my anecdotal personal observations really mean that not being outside is indeed unhealthy?
A quick search on the internet brings up a lot of articles about the health benefits of being outside. But, and that’s a big but, we also know that in our modern media it is up to us, the reader, to be cautious and mindful of the source and accuracy of what comes up while searching the internet.
Sure, Outside Online has a pretty long article that sites studies with some rich history of data that supports being outside is better than inside. And as the article wraps up it states, “For now, these recent studies provide suggestive but compelling evidence of nature’s lasting effects on our mental health. But one mystery remains: just how precisely it calms us down.” As my old biology professor once said, good research may or may not answer your question, but it should always reveal questions you didn’t know you had. You can read the full article here: “The Incredible Link Between Nature and Your Emotions” It’s a good read and I recommend it.
Then there’s an article in Fast Company Magazine. If you aren’t familiar with them, their About Us page states, “Fast Company is the world’s leading business media brand with an editorial focus on innovation in technology, leadership, world changing ideas, creativity, and design.” Yeah, nature and being outside for personal health doesn’t quite seem to be a fit here. Nonetheless they did run a piece just last month titled, “A two-hour dose of nature each week could make you happier and healthier.” (Click the article title to read it over if you like). Interestingly enough, this article has extracted information from a scientific study in the UK that has come to the conclusion that two hours a week is the proper time needed to gain health benefits from being outdoors. Be aware however, it’s not just being outdoors. You need wander beyond the courtyard of your office. Full sized parks, walks on beaches, a nature trail, etc. are noted as the best options.
Then, a couple of days later, after the Fast Company article, Psychology Today publishes “10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening” as if to say, sure two hours of nature is a thing you can do, but get your hands dirty and grow stuff – That’s where it’s at! Okay, they didn’t really say that. But what they do offer up are 10 ways gardening can benefit your mental health. I won’t list them all, (click the article title to check it out) but I will mention my favorite in the list, number 7 – Being Present. It goes into the mindfulness of the moment of gardening. Hearing the birds, feeling the soil and so on.
Last but not least, I want to leave you with two more links. The first is to the scientific publication that is the foundation of the Fast Company article. “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing” And then this one from Science Daily, “It’s official – spending time outside is good for you.” (Like the other titles listed, clicking the title will open up the full article.)
Basically, what it boils down to is, we know we feel better - even if just a little bit - when we have spent time outside. And now, it looks like there is some scientific evidence to back up those anecdotal moments and thoughts that being outside some of the time, is better than being inside all of the time.