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