Mindful Moments

Stress-reducing tactics, exercises in mindfulness, and emotional health resources designed to boost well-being.

5 Ways Being Outside Makes You Healthier

Just a few minutes in nature offers mental and physical benefits

Photo: Family riding bikes along a paved path

Nature has a way of quieting us down. Even in small doses, being outdoors seems to center us. “Exposure to natural places can lead to positive mental health outcomes, whether a view of nature from a window, being within natural places, or exercising in these environments,” says Jules Pretty, professor of environment and society at the University of Essex in England and author of This Luminous Coast. Experiencing nature in any form for any length of time has serious mind-body benefits. Here are five reasons why you should take time to go outside every day.

It sharpens your mind
“As we spend more time outdoors, it improves our overall attention, memory, and ability to focus,” says Laurie Harmon, PhD, assistant professor of recreation management and therapeutic recreation at The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “Anything that we can do to give ourselves a chance to reset, focus our attention, and improve memory skills is important.” Engaging in outdoor activities can increase environmental awareness, boost creativity, foster social bonds, and influence positive behavioral choices, Pretty says.

It gets you moving
A fit body isn’t the only reward of taking your workout outside. “We have shown that just 5 minutes of exercise in a park, on a nature trail, or other green space will benefit mental health," Pretty says. Drawing from various studies on people of different ages, gender, and health conditions, researchers have linked “green exercise” to a deeper sense of well-being, lower risk of developing mental illness, and higher physical activity levels. Plus, we may perceive outdoor activity as easier, so our drive to keep moving and stick to a workout plan is stronger than it is indoors.

It relieves stress
“When we start to examine people’s understanding of what ‘feeling better’ means, they describe it as feeling emotionally restored,” Harmon says. And being in nature does just that. Studies show that simply seeing the color green puts you in a pleasant mood and relieves stressful feelings. If you’re having a bad day or dreading the gym, taking it outdoors can give you a sense of ease.

It boosts your confidence
“Spending time outdoors gives us that rejuvenation of building our own sense of self,” Harmon says. “As we jog, walk, swim, or ski outdoors, we begin to pay attention to our surroundings and have the ability to distance ourselves from work stress.” In turn, it’s a safe haven for self-exploration and intuitive thinking. Challenging our outdoor skills whether by hiking or rock climbing also ups self-esteem, she says.

It may help you live longer
People who spend time outside tend to have a higher quality of life and may live longer, Harmon says. “Green space is important for mental well-being, and levels of interaction and engagement with nature have been linked with longevity and decreased risk of mental illness in a number of countries,” Pretty says. Until recently, no one realized how quickly the outdoors sparked positive changes. Five minutes is all you need, Pretty says, but once nature works its restorative charm, you’ll probably want to spend more.

Squeeze in some fresh air with these tips from Pretty:

  • Snap some pictures. If you head outdoors with your camera, you’ll have memories of your time in nature and get a chance to explore your artistic side.
  • Head to an off-leash dog park. Studies show that dog owners tend to stay fit year-round. Non-owners can get inspired to move by being around active pups and their keepers.
  • Go seasonal sightseeing. Think: a walk through a botanical garden in the spring or summer, or corn mazes and campfires in the fall or winter.
  • Try geocaching, a free outdoor treasure hunt that adults can enjoy, too.