Why You Should Get Outside as Much as You Can This Spring

Let’s be honest, a lot of us spend our workdays cooped up indoors under bright office lights, our eyes fixed on computer screens for hours, drinking copious amounts of coffee or tea, to then return home to bask in the glow of our TV screens…

But spending too much time inside isn’t good for you. And getting outside is beneficial (maybe essential!) for your health.

Psychologists, scientists, and health researchers are finding more and more science-backed reasons why we should spend more time outside when we can.

One of our patients from Dupont Circle, Jill, was telling me in the clinic the other day about a book she’d just finished reading called, “The Nature Fix”. In it, the Author shared her insights on the impact that being outdoors had on her health and wellbeing after moving to the mountainous terrain of Boulder, Colorado…

“I used to have trouble focusing, I felt overwhelmed, and didn’t want to get out of bed – all that changed when I moved and spent more time outside.”

While we don’t all need to pack up and move somewhere as glorious as Boulder – it’s true that we could all probably benefit from spending more time exploring what the DC area has to offer us. That could be taking a beautiful walk on the trails or even just visiting your local park if you find it hard to get out and about much – essentially, do whatever you can do to expose yourself to the outdoors.

So, let’s take a look today at why getting outdoors is so important for your health (backed by Science ;-):

1. Fights off stress

Something about getting outdoors changes how your body reacts to stress.

One study found that people sent to go camping in the woods for two nights had lower levels of cortisol (your stress hormone) than those who spent that same time in the city.

Among office workers, even the view of nature outside the window is associated with lower stress and higher job satisfaction.

So, if you don’t have green views while you’re working, find little ways in your week to get more of them in to help you feel re-energized!

Even if that means taking the scenic route to work or going for a green walk on Sundays before you start your week!

2. Spending time outside reduces inflammation

When inflammation strikes, it’s associated in varying degrees with a wide range of effects including back pain, knee pain, depression, bowel problems, etc. – spending time in nature may be one way to keep inflammation in check.

Research has proven that those who spend more time outdoors have lower levels of inflammation than those who spend most of their time in their busy town.

In another study, elderly patients who had been sent on a weeklong trip to a woods showed reduced signs of inflammation, as well as some indications that being outside, had a positive effect on their hypertension.

And now that it’s Spring – spending more time outside is a lot easier!

3. Helps eliminate fatigue

You know that feeling when your brain feels ‘foggy’ and you feel extra tired at the end of the day, wanting to do nothing but put your feet up with a brew? Well, Researchers call that “mental fatigue”, not necessarily physical fatigue.

One thing that can help get you back into gear is by exposing yourself to restorative environments A.K.A the great outdoors.

One study found that people’s mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect.)

So, if you find it hard to get outdoors often, that’s one simple solution to help clear brain fog!

You could even set your computer’s screensaver to something scenic to feel a benefit.

4. Getting outside lowers blood pressure

With all these salutary effects, it’s no surprise that getting outside – which usually involves walking – lowers blood pressure too.

One study of 280 participants found that along with lowering our stress hormone by more than 15%, a walk outdoors lowered the average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by just over 2%.

So you may not need to keep taking pills to keep your blood pressure levels in a healthy state – and instead, go for a gentle walk!

5. Nature could improve your short-term memory

Find yourself getting a bit forgetful? Well, there may just be a natural remedy for that!

Several studies have shown that nature walks have memory-promoting effects that other walks don’t (in a busy town, or rushing around a city)…

…In one study, a group of students was given a brief memory test, then divided into two groups. One group took a stroll around a park, and the others took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and did the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% better in the test than the first time. The ones who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve.

Get outside as much as you can this Spring – walking is a great way to keep active, mobile and give you an energy boost – it doesn’t have to be a hard hike. Enjoy a gentle stroll, and what the DMV area has to offer.

Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS

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