This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"
Blue skies, the warmth of the sun, the sound of birds chirping —these are just a few of the outdoors’ natural attractions. Mother Nature is a show-off and it’s one of life’s great pleasures to be able to enjoy her ever-changing seasonal displays. It’s also a boon to our physical and mental well-being. Not only does being outdoors motivate us to be more physically active, but it also bolsters our defences against illness and disease, reduces stress and makes us feel happier.
Here are five ways the outdoors plays a key role in our health and happiness:
You move more outside than in
Unless you’re working-from-home on a walking treadmill, it’s likely that the life you lead indoors is more sedentary than active. Being outdoors can help change that. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that every hour spent outdoors adds 7 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity to your day and 762 more steps to your daily step count.
For kids, time spent outdoors also translates into more vigorous and exploratory unstructured physical activity and play, which is good for developing bodies and minds. Research suggests that kids that get outside regularly are more active, have lower blood pressure and better cardio-respiratory and musculoskeletal fitness, too.
Kids and adults both struggle to meet national recommendations for physical activity. Kids should ideally get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day while adults should get 150 minutes a week (or roughly 20 minutes a day).
When we move more, we’re happier
If outdoor time often translates into active time, it’s fair to say that it also contributes to better moods too. The link between regular physical activity and happiness is well documented. Physical activity releases feel good chemicals in our brain, making us feel lighter, brighter and more energetic. People that are physically active also report greater self-confidence and increased feelings of contentment.
Chip away at your indoor time by making a point to take a couple of five minute outdoor breaks a day. Walk, jog, bike or garden. Over time, you may find you begin to crave the feeling of moving in nature.
Just sitting in nature makes us happier
A small US study found that even just spending 20 minutes sitting in a park or greenspace can act as something of a tonic on weary spirits, increasing people’s feeling of satisfaction overall. An English study determined that people who live in greener bird-friendly neighbourhoods were less likely to be anxious and depressed.
Forest bathing is a popular natural therapeutic practice from Japan in which you leave your phone behind and allow yourself to wander in nature, drinking in the sights and sounds as restoratives. Theres, no need to work up a sweat, instead, you’re simply giving yourself an opportunity to explore the surroundings and breathe in the rhythms of the natural world.
Start by taking a seat in your local park, botanical garden or greenspace. Leave your phone behind, take off your smart watch, and focus your attention on the scents, sounds and sights before you.
It’ll boost your health
Greenspace is good for you. In fact, it’s good for entire human populations. A study by researchers in England found that populations that had higher density of greenspace reported better overall health than those that didn’t.
The same research determined that exposure to greenspaces was also associated with reduced risk of type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.
The sun is a source of essential vitamins
Time spent outdoors, especially in summer, builds up your stores of vitamin D. In addition to its positive effects on bones and teeth, vitamin D appears to be an important disease fighter, conferring protective effects against a range of ailments like osteoporosis and heart attacks. A number of factors go into how much sun is enough for your body to manufacture vitamin D, including age, skin tone and sunscreen use. 15- to 20-minute sessions in which your arms and legs are exposed to sunlight about three times a week in summer should suffice.
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