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Fill your Nature Rx: Get out and Enjoy the Sunshine


Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD


Are you looking for some free therapy? Well, all you need to do is open your door and take a step outside.

It’s true. Research study after research study provides strong evidence of the therapeutic powers of sunlight and being in nature. And, don’t worry, you don’t need to move to a warmer climate or spend hours outside to get the benefits.

With COVID taking a big hit on our emotional well-being, one way to combat pandemic pressure is to spend time in nature.

First, let’s look at the powerful benefits you can enjoy from spending more time outside. Then we will explore how you can enjoy the great outdoors, no matter your location or schedule.

Benefits of being outside

Less stress

Being outside can decrease stress-related hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. In fact, one study found being in nature reduces stress hormone concentrations by more than 15%.

Better mood

Light can boost your mood. It helps keep serotonin levels up, helping you feel happier and calmer.

Sunlight can also be a very effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Typically, SAD occurs when days are shorter and is characterized by sadness, exhaustion, and anxiety. Getting outside (even on a cloudy day) can help improve SAD symptoms. 

The mere act of being in nature can also improve your mood. One study found that even just sitting outside for 15 minutes helped people feel “psychologically restored.” What’s more, being outside for even five minutes can improve self-esteem.

Increases your energy

Who needs coffee? It turns out spending even just 20 minutes outside can give your brain a boost of energy similar to an entire cup of coffee.

Decreases pain and improved healing

Sunlight can help decrease stress and pain in post-surgical patients, resulting in them taking less pain medication. Getting sunlight also resulted in faster healing.

Boosts your mental functioning

Being in nature can help improve focus and attention, even in people with ADHD. What’s more, people immersed in nature for four days improved their performance on a creative problem-solving test by 50%.

An intervention study from the University of Michigan sheds more light on the cognitive benefits of being outside. Students were given a memory test and then randomly assigned to either walk down a city street or walk through a garden. The latter group had a 20% score improvement while the former group had no improvements.

Helps you sleep

Light can help optimize your internal clock. So, getting sunlight in the morning can help you sleep better at night. How? Turns out that light helps to stimulate melatonin at night when your body wants to get its Z’s. 

Ups your Vitamin D

Vitamin D has significant health benefits, including prevention of cancer, osteoporosis and heart attacks. It also boosts your immune system and blood cell functioning.

Lowers blood pressure

Even just looking at nature has been shown to result in lower blood pressure. 

Improves your immune system

Plants may be helpful “medicine.” Breathing in phytoncides (chemicals released by plants) can increase white blood cell count, translating into a strong immune system to fight off infections and diseases. 

Strengthens your bones

Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and prevents osteoporosis. While you can get Vitamin D from foods, more than 90% of our Vitamin D comes from sunlight.

Helps you age more gracefully

Adults over 70 who spent time outdoors experienced fewer problems with sleep, fewer aches and pains, and greater ease in performing daily activities. 

Nature may even help you live longer. A study from Environmental Health Perspectives found greater exposure to nature was associated with a 12% lower mortality rate, most notably related to lower death rates from cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease.

Greater job satisfaction

Workers who have window views describe less stress at work and greater job satisfaction. 

So, how can you get your nature Rx? Try these tips

  1. Take a bath: There is a decades-old tradition in Japan called “forest bathing.” This does not mean really taking a bath, but rather simply means immersing yourself in nature. Take a walk, have a picnic, or just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine and great outdoors.
  2. Dine alfresco: As the weather is getting warmer, it makes it easier to spend time outside. Try eating outdoors at a restaurant or outside at home. Enjoying nature while you dine can get you some of the benefits mentioned above.
  3. Meet outdoors: Whether it’s for a social occasion or even a work meeting, convening outside can help you get some sunshine even during working hours.
  4. Go for a walk: Even just a 10-minute walk during your day can help boost your energy and mood. 
  5. Look at nature: If you can’t physically get outside, don’t fret. Research shows that looking at nature, such as looking out a window or even a picture of nature, can give you some similar benefits to being outside, including less stress. 
  6. Bring nature to you: In addition to pictures or windows, having an indoor plant or fresh flowers can be a great way to bring nature into you. While you don’t get the benefits of direct sun exposure, you still can get some of the positive aspects of nature.
  7. Schedule your time: If you wait for when you “have time,” when will that actually happen? Maybe never. Right now, grab your schedule and plan some time outside this week.

Get your Rx of sunshine and nature to boost your psychological and physical well-being!