The Life-Changing Benefits of Getting Outside

The Life-Changing Benefits of Getting Outside

Think about a time you spent a good amount of time outside. Whether it was a hike, a week of camping or even a nice stroll around your local park – close your eyes and imagine your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? Most importantly – how do you feel? 

Chances are, you could probably list off a ton of positive feelings after spending some quality time outdoors. Psychological research has found that being outdoors is beneficial to one’s mental health, specifically lowering their stress and improving their mood. Being outdoors is also linked to physical health benefits, such as reducing cardiovascular disease and promoting good cholesterol.

Despite the numerous health benefits connected to spending time outdoors, recent research has found that people are spending less time outside due to the growing trend of urbanization.  In fact, The Nature of Americans National Report states that half of adults are spending five hours or less each week outdoors. Children are also spending less time outdoors – the report explains that an increased use of technology is the leading factor that is keeping children from experiencing the wonders of the natural world. 

Not only is our outside world breathtaking, but getting outside provides SO many health benefits! Here are some key perks to getting outdoors: 

Good ol’ vitamin D 

The best source of getting vitamin D is from the heart of the Solar System  – the sun! This sunshine vitamin is unique among other vitamins because it can be directly absorbed into our skin! When we are exposed to sunlight, our skin begins to synthesize vitamin D naturally on its own.  

Vitamin D provides a plethora of health benefits that make going outside just a bit more exciting:

  • Supports a healthy immune system: Research shows that vitamin D contains anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight against diseases. Those who are deficient in vitamin D may be more susceptible to disease and infections. 
  • Healthier bones: Vitamin D is known for its regulation of calcium homeostasis, which is pertinent to preventing bone diseases, such as osteomalacia. 
  • Help with mental health issues: There is a link to depression and vitamin D deficiency, according to this study. Although a lack of vitamin D is only a factor in depression, increasing vitamin D levels by going outside may help alleviate depressive symptoms.  

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily dose of vitamin D is “400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years.” Depending on your skin color, the amount of time you need to spend under the sun to gain the benefits of vitamin D varies. So how long do we need to catch some sun rays in order to get that vitamin D? 

    A study done in Oslo, Norway found that just spending 30 minutes in the sun during midday produced 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D! However, those with darker skin and a higher amount of melanin in their body might need to stay outside a bit longer for vitamin D production. Melanin is a natural skin pigment that can absorb the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun and protect our skin. Individuals who have darker skin tend to produce more melanin, which creates more of a protection of the skin from the sun’s rays, slowing vitamin D synthesis and  decreasing the production of vitamin D . If this is you, hanging out under the sun for about an hour to an hour and a half will help ensure that skin will soak up all the good vitamin D that your body needs! 

    There are plenty of outdoor activities to encourage you to soak in some vitamin D. Whether it’s a long walk around the block or reading your favorite book in your backyard – take a break from the grind and get your daily dose of vitamin D! 

    Feeling more relaxed – no more stress!

    All of us feel varying levels of stress. However, there is a variety of ways that we can mediate our stress levels and being outdoors is one of the best ways! Research states that surrounding ourselves with green spaces (parks, nature reserves, wilderness environments) support good mental health and overall well-being. For example, the study found that those who exercised outside once a week had about half the risk of poor mental health in comparison to those that did not! 

    Here are a few approaches you can try to help you experience nature: 

  • Outdoor yoga: Yoga is a popular, age-old form of exercise that not only helps with flexibility and balance, but can also be a form of meditation that will help you feel more relaxed. Different yoga flows include poses that refer to the natural world, such as vriksasana (tree pose) and tadasana (mountain pose). By practicing yoga outdoors, you have the ability to tap into your connection with the natural world while also helping you feel a little less stressed with every breath. 
  • Gardening: Your garden not only provides you with tasty vegetables but it also provides an experience outside that supports your daily “sun intake”. Tending your own garden encourages you to be outdoors more. As mentioned earlier, surrounding yourself with green spaces has shown improvements in mental health. Furthermore, the act of gardening promotes physical activity, exposure to sunlight, and social interaction, thus reducing the stress in your life. 
  • Forest bathing: We know – “forest bathing” sounds a little odd, but it isn’t as vulnerable as you may be imagining it. Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a Japanese practice of spending time in nature while in a state of mindfulness. This means no distractions – phones, friends, music, etc. You are to simply take a walk in the forest and absorb everything that nature provides – the sounds of the birds chirping, the scent of the tree’s bark, the soft padded ground that you walk on. Forest bathing is shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which is essential in helping you feel completely relaxed. It is also completely low-impact and accessible – just find a local hike and let your mind do the rest! 

  • Better relationships 

    In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that rates of divorce were increasing in the US as the marriage rate was decreasing. It’s no news that relationships can be difficult, especially if you are in a long-term relationship. The beginning stages of a relationship is filled with whimsy and exciting experiences, but as you spend more time together, you might find yourself feeling more pestered than enamored every once in a while…it happens but let’s strive for something better!

    In order to overcome this, it is important to keep dating each other while you’re in a relationship. So, what better way to date than to spend time outdoors? 

    Pizza movie nights are fun, don’t get us wrong, but research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that couples who spent more time outdoors together reported “better relationships” and a “higher wellbeing.” As we’ve learned so far, spending time outdoors reduces stress, which can prohibit the detrimental effects to a relationship’s success. 

    Beyond romantic relationships, familial relationships can also be strengthened through quality time spent outdoors. Nothing has brought our families closer together than quality time in Mother Nature. Outdoor activities are always fun when you have your loved ones around you – whether it be a water balloon fight in the summer or skiing together in the winter, exposure to the natural world can bond familial relationships as you spend quality time together in the outdoors.

    Improved Sleep

    Getting good sleep is a universal struggle. How many times have you arrived at work with the thought “I did not get enough sleep last night”? (If it’s a lot, don’t worry – we feel the same sometimes). Luckily enough, spending time outdoors is an accessible way to improve your sleep! 

    A study done on 377 women across the United States found that on average, women who spent more time outdoors in the afternoon slept more than the women who had spent less time outdoors. 

    Sunlight plays a major role in improving your sleep quality. Light in general can affect our body’s circadian clock – the 24 hour cycle of mental, behavioral and physical changes that our body goes through each day. When it comes to sleep, exposure to natural light helps our circadian rhythm sync with the rising and setting of the sun

    Unfortunately, other lights that we encounter throughout the day can confuse our circadian rhythm – the lights in our home, buildings, phones, etc. can disrupt our circadian rhythm and contribute to our poor sleep. To combat this, researcher Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder advises going camping in order to reset our body’s circadian rhythm. He performed an experiment where he sent individuals on a six day camping trip without any sources of artificial light. The scientists observing the experiment found that the campers slept longer and earlier than they did when they were at home! Wright attributes this to the lack of artificial light that we are exposed to from technology. 

    While we love a good camping trip, if that’s not in the cards during this season of life for you, Wright advises to simply spend more time in natural light and reduce technology use at nighttime. 

    The incredible benefits to our health and lifestyle from simply going outside and exploring the world can’t be beat! In fact, Daybreak Cacao was founded on a love for the natural world and the memories made from the adventures we’ve had in the great outdoors. We want to preserve memorable outdoor experiences for generations to come, which is why we donate a portion of our proceeds to wildlife conservation. To learn more about how you can be a part of keeping our wildlife safe, visit our Impact page. 

    Leave a comment