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14 Science-Based Benefits of Being Outside in Nature

Discover 14 science-based benefits of being outside, from improved cognition and mood to reduced risk of chronic diseases.

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Man enjoying the benefits of being outside

Did you know that there are tons of science-based benefits of being outside? Your exposure to nature can significantly impact your health and well-being. Many studies reveal a wide range of health benefits from enjoying nature outdoors [1].   

I’m a passionate outdoors enthusiast who finds lots of personal rejuvenation and joy in nature outdoors. I’m also a medical provider and love to help others improve and optimize their health. While modern medicine has its place, there’s not much better than the prescription to enjoy the outdoors to benefit your health and well-being.

I’ve found fourteen benefits of being outside in nature for the whole family. These could be further categorized broadly as mental health benefits and physical benefits, although both intertwine and contribute to our overall health.  

1) Improves Cognition

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Time spent outside, including hiking and camping, can result in an improved ability to concentrate and think [2].  Spending time outdoors can also improve your ability to focus overall [3]. Research has shown that the time to complete a task was decreased by more than 7 seconds for those who spend time outdoors in nature [4].

2) Lowers Stress

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Stress reduction is a potential benefit of being outside. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors, including hiking and camping, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and overall sense of stress [5, 6].

3) Decreases Depression and Anxiety

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Multiple studies have shown a benefit in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms in participants who spent quality time outdoors [7, 8].  A 50-minute hike weekly improved the mood and cognition of individuals who were being treated for depression [9].

This didn’t replace treatment but acted as a powerful supplement to existing treatment for those experiencing depression. People who exercised outside also experienced decreased anxiety more than those who exercised indoors [10].

4) Lowers Risk of Psychiatric Disorders in Youth

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Youth who have regular time outside in nature are at a decreased risk for mental health disorders compared to kids who have minimal outdoor exposure. Youth with minimal outdoor nature exposure have a 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder into adulthood [11].

Kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) improved their ability to focus after a walk outdoors [12]. Regularly hiking and camping with your kids could potentially improve their general mental health and decrease their risk of developing a mental health disorder. 

5) Improves Overall Mood and Sense of Well-being

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Spending time in nature outside improves mood and sense of well-being [13, 14, 15]. People who spend time outside also feel an improvement in their vitality [16]. One study found that the minimum effective dose for a mood benefit was to spend 120 minutes per week outside [17].

6) Increases Social Connections

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Spending time outside can increase social connections and a sense of belonging in a community [18]. Community is an important aspect of human health and well-being.

The outdoor community is generally friendly and welcoming to beginner hikers and people from all backgrounds. Many life-long friendships and marriages have resulted from people’s love of the outdoors. 

7) Improves Sleep

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Sleep cycles are dependent on our circadian rhythm or internal clock. Sunlight is a potent regulator of our sleep/awake cycles [19]. Therefore, exposure to sunlight requires spending time outside. Who doesn’t want better sleep?

8) Improves Longevity

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Research shows that people who spend time outdoors in nature live longer  [20, 21]. This effect is probably due to multiple factors, but the result is a longer lifespan from spending time in nature. 

9) Improves Physical Fitness

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Being outside increases physical activity with lower perceived exertion, resulting in improved physical fitness [22, 23]. Not only will you exercise more, but you’ll enjoy the experience of getting in shape more.  

10) Lowers Cardiovascular Risk

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Heart disease and stroke are among the top causes of death, according to the CDC [24]. Getting outside has multiple benefits for your cardiovascular system, including decreased blood, heart rate, and overall stroke/ heart disease mortality [25, 26, 27].

11) Lowers Obesity

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People who regularly participate in outdoor activities such as hiking or camping have decreased obesity [28, 29, 30]. This is probably partially related to the increased physical activity. 

12) Lowers Diabetes Risk

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If you spend time outdoors frequently, you can also reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (the most common type of diabetes) [31]. Having diabetes significantly increases your risk of other health problems, including heart disease, kidney dysfunction, vision problems, and multiple other health complications [32].

13) Improves Immune Function

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New research has found that spending quality time outside may boost your immune system and decrease the risk of infections [33]. It’s unknown exactly how this works (probably multiple pathways), but outdoor exposure results in a boosted immune system. 

14) Lowers Risk of Needing Glasses for Kids

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Getting your kids outdoors may decrease the risk of needing glasses for nearsightedness compared to friends who spend most of their time indoors [34, 35]. 

FAQs

How much time do I need to spend outside to get the benefits?

According to a 2019 study, spending at least 120 minutes per week in nature can significantly boost your health and well-being. You can take a 2-hour chunk or break it into smaller daily segments.

Another study found that people who were being treated for depression improved their mood and cognition after only a weekly 50-minute hike [9].

The time outside is probably different for everyone, but the point is that getting outside, even in small doses, is probably beneficial.

What are some outdoor activities that can help me enjoy nature?

Many outdoor activities can help you enjoy nature, such as hiking, camping, caving, fishing, picnicking, gardening, birdwatching, or simply walking in a park or a green space. You can also involve your family and friends in outdoor activities and increase your social connections.

How can being outside in nature help me cope with isolation and loneliness?

Being outside in nature can help you cope with isolation and loneliness by providing opportunities to connect with other people and living beings. You can join a local outdoor group, volunteer for a conservation project, or simply chat with a friendly stranger at the park.

If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, please seek help or call 911.

How can being outside in nature enhance my creativity and problem-solving skills?

Being outside in nature can enhance your creativity and problem-solving skills by stimulating your brain and reducing mental fatigue. Nature offers novel and diverse stimuli, such as sights, sounds, smells, and textures, that can spark your imagination and curiosity. Nature can also help you relax and clear your mind, allowing you to focus better and think more clearly. 

How can being outside in nature support my children’s development and learning?

Being outside in nature can support your children’s development and learning by fostering their physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth. Nature can provide your children with a safe and stimulating playground where they can exercise, explore, play, and learn. Nature can also help children develop positive attitudes, values, and behaviors towards themselves, others, and the environment.

Sources/References

  1. Urban Nature for Human Health and Well-Being by the USDA, Forest Service.
  2. Understanding Nature and Its Cognitive Benefits by Schertz and Berman
  3. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature by Berman, Jonides, and Kaplan
  4. The Influence of Interaction with Forest on Cognitive Function by Shin, Shin, Yeoun, and Kim
  5. More Green Space is Linked to Less Stress in Deprived Communities by Thompson et al. 
  6. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults by Morita et al. 
  7. Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health by Beyer et al. 
  8. Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas by Alcock et al. 
  9. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression by Berman et al.
  10. The Relationship between the Physical Activity Environment, Nature Relatedness, Anxiety, and the Psychological Well-being Benefits of Regular Exercisers by Lawton et al.
  11. Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood by Engeman et al. 
  12. Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park by Taylor and Kuo
  13. What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis by Barton and Pretty
  14. Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective by Bratman el al.
  15. The Relationship Between Nature Connectedness and Eudaimonic Well-Being: A Meta-analysis by Pritchard et al. 
  16. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature by Ryan et al. 
  17. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing by White et al.
  18. Streetscape greenery and health by Vries et al. 
  19. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood by Blume, Garbazza, and Spitschan
  20. Urban residential environments and senior citizens’ longevity in megacity areas by Takano, Nakamura, and Watanabe
  21. Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women by James et al. 
  22. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all by Gladwell et al.
  23. Environmental factors associated with adults’ participation in physical activity by Humpel, Owen, and Leslie
  24. Leading Causes of Death in US by the CDC
  25. The health benefits of the great outdoors by Bennett and Jones
  26. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center by Kardan et al. 
  27. Residential green spaces and mortality by Gascon et al. 
  28. Green and blue areas as predictors of overweight and obesity by Halonen et al.
  29. Exploring the relationship between childhood obesity and proximity to the coast by Wood et al. 
  30. The relationship of physical activity and overweight to objectively measured green space accessibility and use by Coombes, Jones, and Hillsdon
  31. Is Neighborhood Green Space Associated With a Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes? By Astell-Burt, Feng, and Kolt
  32. Diabetes Complications by the American Diabetes Association
  33. How might contact with nature promote human health? by Ming Kuo
  34. Green spaces and spectacles use in schoolchildren in Barcelona by Dadvand et al. 
  35. Protective behaviours of near work and time outdoors in myopia prevalence and progression in myopic children by Huang et al.
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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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