Life can feel like a constant push and pull of various responsibilities at any given time. Emails and texts to answer. Work to get done. Relationships to nourish. Dishes to clean, and chores to do. We spend a lot of time “plugged in” and in front of screens and over time can become disconnected from the natural world around us. So what are the actual benefits of spending time in nature and why is it important for well-being?
Before transitioning to a full-time travel lifestyle and spending time off-grid, we spent less time outside than we would care to admit. We shuffled between long commutes in our cars, sitting in an office at work all day, commuting back, eating dinner, watching TV, and doing chores. It felt as though the day was over in the blink of an eye. We were lucky to get out for a short walk and spent a lot of time sitting in front of screens at work and home.
Digging into the science helped us understand the transformative difference we felt when we shifted our lifestyle and became more intentional about spending time outside. These 7 science-backed benefits of spending time in nature will help you bring awareness to how you spend your time and how it impacts your well-being.
1. Spending time in nature offers protective benefits of Vitamin D & mood boost
Getting outside during the day exposes you to sunlight. This not only gives you a warm tingly sensation and mood boost as the sun’s rays kiss your skin and light enters your eyes. It also allows for the production of an essential vitamin, vitamin D.
Vitamin D can be made in the skin due to a process that occurs when the sun absorbs UVB rays. Research suggests that Vitamin D plays a role in fighting various diseases and cancers, regulating mood, and supporting bone health and density. In addition, some studies also suggest that time in nature can boost mood and offer support for individuals with depressive symptoms. Of course, it is important to strike a balance and protect your skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure, but getting out in the sunlight can have positive health benefits as well!
2. Spending time outside provides an opportunity for more exercise
As the world has modernized, our days have become much more sedentary. For example, you might find yourself spending long hours sitting in front of a computer, sitting in your car, or sitting on the couch. While spending time in nature does not necessarily guarantee exercise, it does provide more opportunities for physical activity and higher levels of activity are generally associated with better health.
Whether it’s a leisurely walk with your dog, a light jog, a hike in a local forest, a bike ride to a nearby store, or a stroll through the park, being outside provides ample room to encourage you to stretch your legs away from the distraction of screens.
In addition, unlike going to the gym for some people, outdoor activities such as hiking may result in longer periods of activity due to it feeling less like exercise and having other benefits.
You may forget about the “exercise” if you are focused on seeing beautiful sights, experiencing and appreciating nature, or spending time with friends or loved ones.
3. Time in nature is linked to reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels
The benefits of spending time in nature not only include being good for happiness and mental health, but also for important physical health factors including heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
One study suggests that people who had longer visits to green spaces (generally 30 minutes or more) had lower rates of depression and high blood pressure. It also found that higher rates of physical activity coincided with longer and more frequent visits to green spaces. In another study reviewing several studies on the topic, results suggested that people who live near or spend more time in green environments had a variety of health effects including lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
Looking for a way to manage and release the effects of the many stressors prevalent in today’s hectic world? Prioritize spending some time outside in nature.
4. Spending time in nature can improve your sleep
If you have ever experienced challenges with sleep or insomnia, you might have heard the advice to start your day with a dose of sunlight.
Getting sunlight in the morning sends wakeful signals to your circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that helps regulate your sleep-wake pattern. As light enters your retinas in the morning, your body will stop the production of melatonin (associated with the timing of sleep onset) and increase the production of serotonin to help you feel more alert and boost your mood.
This then sets the stage for wakefulness throughout the day! It also helps build your sleep drive to help you fall asleep more quickly at night.
5. Spending time in nature can support your immune system
When we integrate into nature, our bodies benefit! This study about the benefits of hiking suggests that spending time in nature can help boost the immune system.
The study explains that organic compounds called phytoncides released from plants may support health benefits when inhaled during time spent in natural environments, such as being around trees or other green spaces. These health benefits included a rise in natural killer cell activity, which helps to protect the body from diseases such as cancer.
6. Getting outside can support your eyesight
Let’s face it, we spend a lot of time looking at screens throughout each day. In addition, we are often focused on objects that are close to us (think computer screens, reading, etc.). Getting outside in nature gives your eyes a break from the screens. It also relieves strain by shifting focus to objects in the distance in the vast environment of nature. Finally, it allows for the eyes to get exposed to brighter natural light, which some studies suggest supports the vision and can help protect again myopia (nearsightedness) as well.
7. Being outdoors can offer increased connection with loved ones or the environment around you
One of the biggest benefits we experienced when spending more time in nature was how our appreciation for the world around us deepened and how connected we felt to each other. Traveling the U.S. and exploring natural places helped us to experience sights and environments we had never seen before. Through this, we became closer to the world around us. We started to get a better understanding of the beautiful and delicate ecosystems around us and reflect on the impact we have on those systems. We also started to feel a greater drive to protect these spaces that brought us so much fulfillment.
In addition, spending our afternoons and weekends hiking allowed us to spend more quality time together. Through our shared experiences we were making lifelong memories together. Spending time together outdoors has provided us the opportunity to focus on connecting, away from the distractions of screens.
A Final Note on the Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Spending time outside in nature is good for the mind, body, and soul. Several studies suggest the various benefits of stepping away from devices, getting out into natural spaces, and enjoying some time in the sunshine.
We have experienced firsthand how it feels to prioritize time outside and we are happier and healthier because of it. Nature is healing and can be a great way to connect with others and the world around you, take a few moments to slow down and focus on yourself, or simply soak in the beauty of this magnificent place we all call home.
We encourage you to consider how much time you spend in nature and if you might benefit from more time unplugged and away from screens. The next time you venture out, notice how it feels to be fully present in nature and more intentional about connecting to the natural world around you. Nature is full of beauty that can help you foster gratitude and plenty of amazing benefits for your physical and mental health as well!
Check Out These Other Resources For Supporting Wellness In Nature
- 7 Fun Mindfulness Activities for the Outdoors: How to Support Wellness in Nature
- Mindful Walking Practices
- 10 Nature Is Healing Quotes & How To Experience The Benefits
- Mindful Moments In Nature: Boost Your Mood, Improve Happiness & Foster Fulfillment
Please protect the natural areas you visit - for the wildlife, the environment, and for the enjoyment of future generations. Practice Leave No Trace
- Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health
- Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose
- Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective
- Hiking: A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits
- The Role of Time Exposed to Outdoor Light for Myopia Prevalence and Progression: A Literature Review
- Interacting with Nature Improves Cognition and Affect for Individuals with Depression