You can eat a super healthy diet and exercise and get adequate sleep and meditate twice a day, but you would be missing a vital part of what leads to balanced health. That is getting into nature and taking time outside. It is surprisingly easy to go from your house, to your car, to the gym, to work and spend very little time outside under the sun and the sky. But there are so many reasons to get out of your house and spend time in the fresh air.
1. Decrease stress
In Japan the practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is known for its healing powers. Wandering though the forest and being present with the surroundings decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing a sense of calm and well-being. You don’t need to have a big forest to wander though. Getting outside for a walk around the block and focusing on the trees, neighborhood gardens, and the sky will have similar stress reducing benefits.
2. Decrease depression and anxiety, and elevate your mood
Ecotherapy has been on the rise lately, which is basically doctors and therapists prescribing to their patients to get outdoors. Sunlight has long been known to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because of the sunlights role in creating vitamin D and serotonin. A 2007 study from the UK found that a walk in the park helped ease depressive symptoms in 71% of patients. Everyone deals with different levels of emotional depression and anxiety, and mother nature can offer tremendous healing properties.
3. Feel rejuvenated during the day and sleep deeper at night
Finding time to get outside is crucial for daily energy and quality sleep. In particular it is great to get out in the morning, and look up at the blue sky. Why? Because based on the kind of light that you take in, your eyes regulate a delicate balance of hormones and chemicals that make you feel awake or sleepy. The blue light in the day time sky will cue your body to release serotonin, the happy and awake chemical in your brain. This is also the precursor to melatonin, which is critical for sleep. If you don’t get enough day light your body may not have the building blocks it needs when its time to bed down for the evening.
4. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is crucial for the body (and it is really misnamed, as it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin.) It is critical in many functions of the body, most notably for the maintenance of healthy bones. Calcium alone will not make your bones strong, your body needs adequate vitamin D to maintain healthy bone strength (which is why milk is often fortified with it). Not getting enough sunlight could lead to osteoporosis, rickets as well as other health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and cancer.
5. Increase happiness and appreciation for the planet
Not only will you increase serotonin as I mentioned above, but getting out doors will increase gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful tool that increases the feel-good chemicals in our brain. Getting outside, going for a walk or sitting on your front porch, puts you immediately in contact with the elements. For a larger dose, going camping or a long day hike, will allow you to get in touch with the daily rhythms of the planet. This can serve as a powerful reminder of how vast our planet, solar system, and universe are. The things that stress over can melt away, or at least take a back seat, as you take a moment to be in awe of this planet and your existence.
There are many other benefits, and I will continue to share more reasons to get outdoors, but that's all for now because it’s time for me to take a stroll and look at the trees!