3 Mental Health Benefits of Spending More Time Outside
When we think of the benefits of being outside, we tend to think of outdoor exercise like hiking, trail running, rock climbing, or cycling in terms of their physical rewards.
But studies show that merely being outdoors may have some pretty substantial benefits for your brain, too. So whether you’re working out, doing chores, or simply walking outdoors, consider extending your activity. Here are a few of the benefits of being outside.
1. Spending Time in Nature May Improve Short-term Memory
If you find yourself a little more forgetful than usual, it might be worth your time to stop what you’re doing and head for the nearest park for a quick walk.
In a study of short-term memory:
- One group was sent on a stroll through an arboretum
- Another had to walk through busy city streets
- The group that got to see the trees performed better on a short-term memory task than the city-walkers
So the next time you can’t remember what it is you were supposed to be doing, it may help to reap the benefits of being outside and take a walk in the woods.
2. Being Outdoors Might Aid Cognition
It’s not just simply the ability to recall things that gets better when you get some good outdoor time.
Studies have found that outdoor activities may boost cognitive function overall by offering the brain a wide variety of low-key, modestly-attention-grabbing stimuli (instead of the direct, stress-inducing stimuli like an urgent Slack notification from your boss).
And the more time you spend outdoors, the greater the effect: A study in PLOS ONE found that backpackers who took a creative problem-solving test after four days isolated from technology performed 50-percent better than those who took the test before hitting the trail.
Although we all can’t always take four days off to give our brains a boost, even a short amount of time will help, and it all comes in addition to the mental benefits of regular ol’ exercise, too!
3. Being Outside May Improve Mood
Although many of us have likely had the experience of coming back from a good hike or trail run in the park feeling better about the world, new evidence shows that the benefits of being outside may include better moods.
- A study in Japan found that a walk through a natural area lowered stress hormones, pulse rate, and even blood pressure.
- Studies have also found that just spending two hours in a natural setting can help if you’re having trouble sleeping – although it may be in your best interest to cut back on the Joe, as well.
More to discover
As scientists, researchers, and mental and physical health professionals continue to study the beneficial effects of being in the outdoors, we’ll soon be able to add even more items to this list.
So the next time your brain is feeling a little sluggish, try taking your exercise routine outdoors to take advantage of some of the many benefits of being outside.
- The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature - Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan, 2008 journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
- Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
- Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3393816/
- The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793346/