Most people know it is important to go outside, be in touch with nature, do some exercise, get fresh air, and so on. They just don’t know how much it plays a part in their overall well-being.
Work, play and education is rapidly going online. Most of it involves being in front of a screen, which usually means sitting indoors.
We’re increasingly glued to screens – for urgent matters, social and learning activities, making a living and addictive entertainment. There are far too many excuses not to go outdoors.
And this may be one of the key causes of the mental health epidemic that is affecting millions of adults, teenagers and even children.
Psychological Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors
It feels good to be outside. Even those who need to be pushed (or dragged) to go for a walk know they feel better for it. But we just don’t know why and how it actually makes us feel happier.
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors in nature has a direct connection to better mental health. Even looking at photos of nature is shown to reduce stress, restore attention, and reduce negative emotions. Research has also shown that spending time in nature can activate the parts of our brain associated with creativity.
#1 What makes an environment restorative? The 2014 study “The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments” found that:
People exposed to urban environments are forced to use their attention to overcome the effects of constant stimulation (described as hard fascination), and this in turn over time induces cognitive fatigue. In contrast, natural environments benefit from what the Kaplan’s term soft fascination, which refers to scene content that automatically captures attention while simultaneously eliciting feelings of pleasure.
#2 Apparently, everyone can benefit as long as you spend sufficient time outdoors in nature. The 2019 study “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing” concluded that:
The current results also suggested that it did not matter how the “threshold” was achieved. This may be because individuals selected exposures to fit their personal preferences and circumstances. For instance, some may prefer long walks on the weekend in locations further from home; while others may prefer regular shorter visits to parks in the local area.
#3 Getting out is better than not going out at all, but it seems that there is a significant difference between being out in nature and in an urban environment. The 2015 study “The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition” discovered that:
This study investigated the impact of nature experience on affect and cognition. We randomly assigned sixty participants to a 50-min walk in either a natural or an urban environment in and around Stanford, California. Before and after their walk, participants completed a series of psychological assessments of affective and cognitive functioning. Compared to the urban walk, the nature walk resulted in affective benefits (decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and preservation of positive affect) as well as cognitive benefits (increased working memory performance).
#4 Another study – “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation (2015)” also found that an urban walk doesn’t have the positive effects that a comparable walk in nature provides:
Urbanization has many benefits, but it also is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. This suggestion is supported by a growing body of correlational and experimental evidence, which raises a further question: what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness? One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. We show in healthy participants that a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity.
#5 The 2012 study “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings” provides a useful conclusion on how taking an extended break from screens to be immersed in nature can lead to increased creative and problem solving abilities:
Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions.
Double Benefits – Away from the Unhealthy & Into the Positive Environment
Unfortunately, there are many who are still not convinced by the advantages of going outside for a walk, a hike, or just to be surrounded by nature. An improved well-being is just too intangible for them. And vague wording in scientific studies like “associated with good health” is overly ambiguous.
They tell themselves they feel better when they’ve cleared their email inbox and are happier when their todo lists are all crossed off.
Actually, the benefits of being outdoors are two-fold. It’s not only the going out. But increasingly, it is getting away from the sedentary life in front of screens that may be equally or more important.
The combination of taking a break from potentially harmful content and habits from being online, and reconnecting with natural elements that are essential to humans, makes it an obvious decision to incorporate the outdoors into your daily or weekly routine.
Here are some of the ways you will benefit by regularly stepping away from your desk (or couch) and stepping outside to enjoy being in nature:
- Get away from screens – artificial light, work, social media anxiety, gaming addiction, WiFi/EMFs
- Get away from same environment – confined space, fixed surroundings, stale environment
- Get away from sitting down on desk couch – sedimentary lifestyle, bad posture, minimal movement
- Get away from things chores needing your attention – never ending things to do, from mundane to urgent, regular to advocate, end up just reacting, constantly doing doing doing
- Get away from people needing your attention – mediate kids bickering, conversations with spouse, friends needing help, discussions with workmates
- Be on the move – walk hike run – movement and exercise stimulate brain, increase blood flow, builds muscle, heart healthy, sweat/detox
- Be in touch with the outdoors – fresh air, better deeper more mindful breathing, sunshine, natural light, essential Vitamin D, skin health, sensual stimulation from breeze/smells
- Be in touch with greenery – visual/smell sensual stimulation from beautiful living trees, plants, flowers, grass,
- Be in touch with wildlife – be alive and be together with the birds, bees, butterflies, squirrels, insects and all living creatures,
- Be in touch with yourself – without attention-seeking distractions, go outside to reconnect with yourself, your thoughts, your inner self
- Do new things – break the monotony of everyday life, invigorate yourself by doing something out of the ordinary, live an interesting life
- Meet new people – casual encounters or like-minded bonding, meaningful conversations or brief catch-ups, get fulfilling human interactions
- Experience new adventures – new scenery, new path, new people, new sensations, new discoveries, new ways to live life
- Have new thoughts – get in touch with your thoughts, recognize and accept them, then allow them to flow naturally and freely
- Get new perspectives – revisit paradigms and rediscover yourself, get a fresh outlook on small and bigger things, look through new windows
- Think of new ideas – free from distractions and limited thinking, let thoughts flow to create and innovate boldly, find new solutions, invent better ways
Quotes About Spending Time Outdoors
If you still need any further convincing to spend more time outdoors and get in touch with nature, here are some great quotes that share some excellent insights on how the world around is amazing (for us):
“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.” – G.M. Trevelyan
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” – Henry David Thoreau
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir
“Choose only one master – Nature” –Rembrandt
“Colors are the smiles of nature.” – Leigh Hunt
“Come forth into the light things, let nature be your teacher.” –William Wordsworth
“Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints.” – Frederic Gros
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can ever learn from books.” –John Lubbock
“He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” –Socrates
“Hiking and happiness go hand in hand or foot in boot.” – Diane Spicer
“Hiking in undiscovered places is a lot of fun.” – Karolina Kurkova
“Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.” – Jennifer Pharr Davis
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” –Henry David Thoreau
“I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.” –Frank Lloyd Wright
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” –John Burroughs
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” – Raymond Inmon
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” – Aristotle
“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” –Robert Louis Stevenson
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” – Ashley Smith
“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” – Claude Monet
“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.” –Charles Dickens
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” – Gary Snyder
“Not all who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
“Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” – Walt Whitman
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” –Wallace Stevens
“Real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization.” – Charles Lindbergh
“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” – Cindy Ross
“The antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest. It’s nature.” – Shikoba
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” – Anne Frank
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
“The Earth has music for those who listen.” – William Shakespeare
“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” – Unknown
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Alexander Supertramp McCandless
“The poetry of the earth is never gone.” – John Keats
“The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.” –Claude Monet
“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The wilderness holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask.” – Nancy Newhall
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.” –Linda Hogan
“Walking is a man’s best medicine.” – Hippocrates
“We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.” –William Hazlett
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” –Edward Abbey
“Woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart.” –Hal Borland