All Beauty, All the Time—For Everyone.

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

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 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 less than an hour we can improve our focus and short-term memory. (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.

You begin to think more creatively

There's a reason Steve Jobs famously took meetings on foot: Research shows that walking—epecially while exposed to fresh air—stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving. (A word to the wise: Taking a stroll is great for writer's block.)

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 each day—even in the dead of winter—may relieve these symptoms.

You might even live longer

After observing 108,000 women over the course of eight years, Harvard researchers 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.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, Daily GC, Gross JJ. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activationProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(28):8567-8572. doi:10.1073/pnas.1510459112

  2. Kobayashi H, Song C, Ikei H, Park BJ, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Combined effect of walking and forest environment on salivary cortisol concentrationFront Public Health. 2019;7:376. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2019.00376

  3. Berman MG, Kross E, Krpan KM, et al. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depressionJ Affect Disord. 2012;140(3):300-305. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012

  4. Kuo M. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathwayFront Psychol. 2015;6:1093. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093

  5. Wright KP Jr, McHill AW, Birks BR, Griffin BR, Rusterholz T, Chinoy ED. Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycleCurr Biol. 2013;23(16):1554-1558. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.039

  6. Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014;40(4):1142-1152.

  7. Niedermeier M, Einwanger J, Hartl A, Kopp M. Affective responses in mountain hiking-A randomized crossover trial focusing on differences between indoor and outdoor activityPLoS One. 2017;12(5):e0177719. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0177719

  8. Webb AR, Kazantzidis A, Kift RC, Farrar MD, Wilkinson J, Rhodes LE. Meeting Vitamin D requirements in White Caucasians at UK latitudes: providing a choiceNutrients. 2018;10(4):497. doi:10.3390/nu10040497

  9. James P, Hart JE, Banay RF, Laden F. Exposure to greenness and mortality in a nationwide prospective cohort study of womenEnviron Health Perspect. 2016;124(9):1344-1352. doi:10.1289/ehp.1510363

Related Stories