This is the fourth of a 5 part series on what you can do outside the gym to maximize your progress and overall health. In part 4, I’ll dive into the benefits of being outside in nature.
You might not expect this to be too important, but it’s actually appears this could be a big deal. First off, we must remember that being outdoors is our natural environment. Our genetics are not built for this world of concrete, technology, and endless to-do lists. If you think about it, our lives are really no different than being a zoo animal in a concrete cage, living a very different life than were we in the wild.
Consider that research has shown health benefits from simply looking at pictures of nature! And, it was actually just pictures of greenery in an urban landscape vs. urban landscapes without any greenery! That’s still far from a natural setting, but still showed measurable benefit.
It’s also no coincidence that we want to put plants in our houses, plant trees in our cities, have parks nearby, etc. Or that people often choose to take vacations places where they can get out and see nature. We are wired to want to be in our habitat, whether we are aware of it or not.
There is plenty of research showing health benefits from “nature bathing”, aka simply getting out in nature – no bath required. This seems true of even the slightest bit of exposure. One study showed that numerous potted plants in an indoor workplace boosted productivity by 15%. Another study done in a major city showed that having 10 more trees on a street made people living there feel 7 years younger and were happier by an equivalent amount to having been given a $10,000 raise. The people on the more treed streets had less obesity & heart disease as well. Here’s an interesting tidbit – affluent people living in areas without much of a tree canopy, such as a new housing development – had health reports more similar to those in poor communities.
Beyond these interesting studies, forest exposure has been shown to improve immune function, vision, and cardiovascular health. It improves sleep and the circadian rhythm, reduces stress hormones, and helps psychological and emotional well being.
I think we need to look at those “benefits” in the true light. Rather than these exposures making us healthier, the lack of being in nature constantly makes us less healthy than we should be. If you aren’t out in mature frequently, no matter what else you do for your health, your baseline of wellness is less that your genetics expect. Getting out in nature reduces this constant drag on your well-being by moving you back toward the level of wellness that is your genetic birthright.
I’m guessing most health & fitness oriented folks still don’t see the sun for more than a few minutes per day. Even for those more interested gainzz in the gym over wellness, nature bathing will speed your recovery, as a healthier you means faster recovery. (lower cortisol/higher testosterone)
How do you fit this into an already busy life? Luckily, this can combine with walking we talked about in part 2 of this series. Whether this is a walk on treed streets, or in a park, or getting out of town for regular hikes, you can easily kill two birds with one stone, spending no additional time.
You can also simply sit outside somewhere where there is vegetation and simply take in the sights. Whether you are walking, hiking, biking, or just sitting in nature, you need to be mindful and take in the sights and smells. Being in nature and spending all your time thinking about that work project or the budget will not give the same benefits.
Some action points:
1) Try to set a realistic goal of time to be outdoors each week. Schedule it in so that it gets done – don’t wait for time to magically appear, because it won’t. (this applies to most everything)
2) It doesn’t need to be a big time commitment – you don’t need to plan a whole day long hike to get benefits. A 10 minute walk at lunch is plenty and will make the rest of your day much better.
3) Be aware of how you feel & sleep after being outdoors vs. when you aren’t.