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11 Benefits Of Being Outdoors
Even before I started working in the outdoor industry, I loved the outdoors. I have many happy memories of going to school outside whenever possible, even on cold days. Summer vacations were spent outdoors as much as possible, not necessarily doing certain things; Just being in the fresh air.
Maybe it all comes from growing up in a city and being limited and constrained by grayness, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the urge has stayed with me and I try to stay out at every opportunity.
Since my childhood, I have looked a little more into why we spend time outdoors and some of the benefits it brings. Some of these have been well researched and documented; Others are anecdotal but seem to apply to a wide range of people I’ve worked with.
Of the benefits, they can be divided into those that are mental and those that are more physical in nature which is where I will begin. These are the things where our body changes for the better, be it sick or healthy.
A well-documented benefit of being outdoors is an increase in vitamin D levels. When sunlight hits the skin, it starts the process of making the vitamin in us. There are studies suggesting that this vitamin may have protective effects against many things, from heart attacks and strokes to cancer or depression. It’s a big debate in Scotland at the moment, with people suggesting the country should take supplements to combat the effects of so many gray days. However, it seems that you don’t need to spend a lot of time outside to keep yourself on top to a reasonable level – 15 minutes a day outside can be enough, and if you take advantage of every sunny day you’ll be fine.
Obviously there’s a downside to burning so we’re told to religiously apply sunscreen to block UVB light from hitting us, which then creates the vitamin. However, with some common sense and a bit of balance it should be possible to avoid overexposure but if you get outdoors enough, allow enough sunlight to keep you healthy.
If you’re outside, by definition you’re not driving in your car or sitting on your couch. This indicates that you will be walking somewhere or participating in some more deliberate exercise. Assuming it’s at the right level for your general level of fitness, it’s a good thing that provides benefits. Again, it doesn’t have to be massive. There are guidelines on what you should do, and it’s best if you follow them. However, if you don’t normally do any exercise I’m sure graduating to doing ‘some’ is a great step.
I know we can still go to the gym and work out and there is no harm in that. However, my opinion is that the constantly changing view outdoors is better than the TV on your running machine, and the other obvious advantage is that the outdoors is free.
A study in Pittsburgh shows that having access to natural light is beneficial for patients recovering from back surgery. Other studies have shown the benefits of seeing trees and countryside instead of just brick walls for patients. I know I was recently confined to a hospital, just for a few days, the fact that I could look out the window at things other than buildings. Now, this is not specifically about this Existence Outside But the benefits of seeing these things can certainly be enhanced by getting out there, perhaps even touching nature. It is no surprise to me that for many years patients have been taken out into the hospital grounds and gardens as part of their recovery.
The outdoors provides more space, especially important for children. How many times have you seen a child who is itching to run around but has a lot of trouble at home? Remove the shackles and they’re off, whether it’s hurtling around a small hall in a building, going under people’s feet and falling into the corner of a table or plane, playing football or running outside. Children are much more active outdoors and I suspect that is largely because there are fewer boundaries to hold them down and conform to. They need to be allowed to let off steam – ask a primary school teacher for the third wet day in a row!
Finally in the physical department, I am a firm believer in the idea that living all our days in our hermetically-sealed, double-glazed, centrally-heated or air-conditioned box (at work or at home) is not very healthy. I know just by looking at myself that fresh air helps me sleep better and gives me less problems with my skin condition. Maybe this is true for other people too, they just need a breath of fresh air sometimes. Yes, cold dry houses aren’t great either but I suspect there’s some middle ground to be found, which can come from frequent visits to the big, fresh-smelling, outside world.
Another task is to look at the effects of being outdoors on our mental health. Although there are few conclusive studies, it seems that several pieces of research are convincing that going outside can have psychological benefits. On top of all this scholarly research, I can now speak from personal experience. Stuck in with a torn Achilles tendon, even a ten-minute walk down the street makes me feel better inside. In this case it especially eased my feelings of being stuck and monotonous. These and other ideas are explained below.
The light will make you feel better and is generally more than outside, even on days you wouldn’t classify as ‘bright’. If you’re not sure, just look at how many people suffer in winter due to the seasonal lack of light. While your job may enslave you to a routine at home that means arriving and leaving in the dark, a five-minute walk at lunchtime can help you feel better.
The natural green colors you see in the countryside have a more calming effect on your brain than the blacks and grays of city life. Even within the confines of an inner city park, the greenery there is more attractive to the eyes. You might not live very close to green spaces (which is a shame, given their obvious benefits) but when you do you can hopefully find them and make the most of them – even a dandelion growing in some crazy mortar. is Start
It also seems to be a commonly held view that one of the quietest sounds you can hear is moving water. Whether it’s a stream, a wave, or a waterfall, the sound makes us feel better somehow, in a way that a dripping tap can’t. You don’t have to camp on a beach or hike a mountain stream – even a brook running through a village green or a fountain in a park can have the same effect.
Sometimes I think you can feel trapped by being inside all the time. Especially in a workplace where you can already feel like you’re part of a system with no escape, sitting in the same seat day after day provides a monotonous view of the world. Stepping out, the vista opens up, looking right down the city street. Add in the benefits provided by even climbing a few meters above the crowd and the feeling of being shut-in, albeit temporary, can increase.
They say variety is the spice of life and change is as good as rest. In that case, however, in short, the move from an indoor existence to an out-of-doors period must be worthwhile. It would be even better if we could go somewhere new to the bargain. It doesn’t have to be exotic, though travel agents try to convince you otherwise. Walking down a different street in your own city may be enough. Moving to a different park or new footpath will provide even more benefits.
People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and especially young children, seem to benefit from being outside. If they can go outside and face their ‘nature deficit’ (as described by Richard Louw in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’) their concentration improves. The research on this is mainly on these children but it is not a wild guess to suggest that the same may be true for all of us. When I worked in the Darlington office complex, I would walk the block for ten minutes every day at lunchtime. It does wonders for my ability to focus during the afternoon. With flexible timing, I was allowed to redo it halfway through the afternoon if needed.
Finally, I believe that being outdoors has the benefit of giving us a new appreciation for our area. Taking the time to look around you at a natural location, whether it’s beautiful or not, will give you a chance to see what’s out there. You don’t have to go far. Sitting outside will present many things to look at with things growing around you. On top of that, there may be birds or small mammals, as well as wildlife as climate affects land or sea. When viewed with the naked eye, it’s hard not to be impressed, and it can only increase your appreciation for the place you’re at. When it is your native land, it can fill you with pride in association. Even if you’re far away, it’s possible to experience a sense of wonder and satisfaction – it’s amazing to be privileged to live in such a diverse world.
You may find some of these things hard to believe or not applicable to your situation or the geographic area you frequent. However, having spent most of my working life in outdoor contexts, I have seen many of these concepts in action and helped people develop their thinking while outdoors. I haven’t been able to put a number on it but I have a guess that everyone who has come out with me over the years has gained something from the experience. Which begs the question why we don’t go out more often – it’s definitely good for us!
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