The Health Benefits of Being in the Outdoors 

Imagine…a beautiful sunny day, the weather is a perfect mid-70s, the birds are out chirping, and beautiful flowers are blooming. On a day like that, what would your mood be like? Chances are, when you envision a day like that, you feel calm, peaceful or happy. Spending time outdoors has numerous health benefits for us, in many different aspects. It’s also a great coping skill that is free and low effort. Moving in nature is seen as highly beneficial, though even sitting outside can offer benefits. Here are a few named benefits and strategies to improve your time outdoors. 

Improving Physical Activity and Socialization 

Spending time outside encourages us to move more. Taking a walk in the park or even around your neighborhood can boost endorphins in our brain, the “feel good” chemicals to help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Many different groups in the Triad offer walking meet-up opportunities. Local moms, check out Well Natured Walks on Instagram for mother and baby-friendly meet-ups to encourage nature and socialization. Speaking of socialization, spending time outdoors allows more opportunities for us to interact with others face-to-face! In our world of technology and busy schedules, we are often isolated from interacting in person. When we move into the outdoors, we are more likely to connect with others. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but it also helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer.”

Connecting with Nature and Calming the Mind 

When we are connecting with nature, we become more mindful of the present by simplifying our sensory input. Disconnecting from technology, we are slowing down the information we must process. The many forms of media we use daily are providing us with large amounts of data to analyze at once. Hiking a trail, sitting by a lake or watching a sunset allows us to calm the mind and notice the natural state of plants and living organisms. When we are mindful, we are simply observing without judgment. We are viewing what’s directly in front of us which also allows us to be curious and notice what we feel within us. Relaxation improves with time in nature. 

According to an article published by Yale Environment 360, “These studies have shown that time in nature – as long as people feel safe – is an antidote for stress. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety and improve mood.” The Triad is home to several parks that offer plenty of space and activities to enjoy the outdoors. Salem Lake and Tanglewood Park offer lengthy walking trails, beautiful greenery and sitting areas. 

Improved Mood and Sleep

Spending time outdoors, especially in sunlight, can increase the production of serotonin. According to PBS NC, “When sunlight enters your eyes, it stimulates the parts of your retina that then cue your brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin appears to play a role in regulating mood, emotions, appetite and digestion.” Sunlight itself also helps with improving our sleep cycles. As PBS NC explains, “It turns out your body needs serotonin to produce melatonin. Your pineal gland (located deep in your brain in an area called the epithalamus) chemically alters one hormone to create the other. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is affected by how much light (natural and unnatural) you’re exposed to, and the related production of these hormones.”

Have trouble with regulating your mood and sleep? Try spending more time in the sun, drinking your morning coffee on your porch or by a window. Have a meal outside – there are plenty of wonderful, outdoor dining options in the Triad. 

Many of you are likely aware of the general benefits of being outside. However, it is easy to get busy with our schedules and activities during the day and miss out on simple time outdoors. I hope this information encourages you to be intentional about improving your health by increasing your time in nature, and it is a wonderful time of year to begin doing so! Happy Spring everyone!

 

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