8 Things That Happen to Your Brain (and Body) When You Spend Time Outside

Updated 09/15/17
Health Benefits of Spending Time Outside
Urban Outfitters

If we told you there was a way to elevate your mood, reduce stress, improve your work performance, live longer, and make your workout feel easier—for free—would it seem too good to be true? The science, however, doesn't lie: Simply spending some time outdoors can benefit your body and mind in countless ways. 

So whether it's a quick jaunt on your lunch break, a tough weekend hike, or a few tranquil moments in your backyard, consider scheduling some time in nature today. And if we still don't have you convinced, the impressive health benefits below just might.

Your mood gets a boost

Even if you live in an urban setting, consider seeking out some greenery. Stanford researchers recently found that people who spent 90 minutes walking in nature significantly decreased activity in the area of their brains tied to depression, especially as compared to people who walked in a city environment.

Other studies show that the Japanese ritual of shinrin-yoku—also known as "forest bathing," it's simply the act of spending time in nature—significantly reduces cortisol levels. In other words, simply stepping outside might be enough to curb your anxiety.

Your mind feels clear and focused

Between work, our to-do lists, and all the other demands of daily life, it's all too easy to lose ourselves in an unrelenting brain fog. But research shows that just by interacting with nature for an hour—and that includes just looking at photos of landscapeswe can improve our focus and short-term memory by up to 20%. (Keep that in mind the next time a big presentation or deadline looms.)

Inflammation starts to ebb away

If the practice of "earthing"—that is, making skin-to-ground contact—seems like something you'd see in a documentary about communes of the 1960s, keep in mind that going barefoot has been scientifically shown to relieve pain and inflammation. Studies also show that spending time outside can give the immune system a boost.

You sleep better

Scientists at the University of Colorado recently confirmed that going camping is a great way to battle insomnia—that's because sleeping outside basically recalibrates our body's circadian rhythm, or internal clock. But if spending a weekend in a tent just isn't your thing, keep in mind that just walking barefoot outside for a few minutes can also you get a better night's sleep later on.

You begin to think more creatively

Exercise feels easier (Yes, seriously)

Skip the treadmill and take your run outdoors—and don't be surprised if you hit a personal best. One fascinating study found that a group who hiked for 45 minutes felt more awake, attentive, and less fatigued than a group that walked on a treadmill instead. (Scientists guess that the combination of a dynamic outdoor environment and the sedative effect of nature help a workout feel less difficult.)

You absorb more vitamin D

City dwellers are particularly prone to vitamin D deficiencies, which might manifest in seasonal depression, brain fog, and fatigue. Because sunlight stimulates our body's synthesis of vitamin D, just spending 10 minutes outside—even in the dead of winter—can relieve these symptoms.

You might even live longer

After observing 108,000 women over the course of eight years, Harvard researchers recently found that those who lived in green areas had a 12% lower death rate than those who lived in urban environments. We're not suggesting that you move, city folks—but perhaps you might be inspired to log some regular time in nature.

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