10 Evidence-Backed Reasons Why Spending Time Outdoors Improves Bone Health And Overall Health
Spring is finally here in the Northern Hemisphere, and after fierce winter storms and cold, dark days, most people are looking forward to warmer weather — and itching to spend time outside again.
Savers know that time spent outdoors encourages to engage in bone-healthy activities such as walking and jogging. But beyond getting the necessary exercise, numerous scientific studies prove that time spent outdoors benefits our well-being in myriad other ways.
Today we’ll explore 10 evidence-backed solutions that demonstrate how experiencing the great outdoors supports bone health as well as overall health. So let’s get started!
1. Boost Your Levels Of The Sunshine Vitamin
You’ve probably heard of Vitamin D referred to as “the sunshine vitamin.” This is because your body produces Vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D not only strengthens bones and reduces the risk of falling, it also helps to lower LDL cholesterol and blood sugar.1, 2 Powerhouse Vitamin D has also been shown to relieve depression (and we’ll have more to say about mood, below). These are just some of the many health benefits of this essential vitamin. Spending time outdoors in the sunshine will boost your Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced from sunlight after your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of falling, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and relieve depression.
2. Prevent Or Alleviate Depression
Most people feel better after walking outside, and there’s a scientific explanation for it: nature walks alleviate depression.3 Researchers found that in people who suffered from major depressive disorder (MDD) their depressive symptoms improved after walking in nature.3
A walk in nature is one of many easy and effective ways to alleviate depression, if you’re looking for natural replacements for bone-damaging antidepressants.
Walking in nature alleviates depression, thus protecting your bones from elevated cortisol levels, which weakens bones.
3. Improve Your Mood
Nature doesn’t only alleviate depression; it can actually make you happier. A new study has found that spending just 20 minutes in an urban park is an effective mood pick-me-up: psychologically and physiologically restorative to the mind and spirit.4
The researchers found that physical activity was not even necessary (though it’s always beneficial!); simply spending time in the park improved the emotional well-being of the study subjects. So as long as you make time for your regular bone-building exercise, you can feel free to lounge on the grass with a good book and soak up those Vitamin D-boosting rays.
A new study confirms that simply spending time in an urban park — as little as 20 minutes — boosts emotional well-being, even if you’re just lounging on a bench with a good book.
4. Build Immunity
If spending just twenty minutes in a park makes us happier, what else can happen when we’re surrounded by trees? It turns out that the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing,” or “taking in the forest atmosphere,” has been found to strengthen the immune system. In a nutshell, forest bathing is done by connecting with the forest through your senses, by simply strolling while savoring the sights, smells, and sounds of nature.
Considered a natural form of immune-boosting aromatherapy, forest bathing allows participants to relax and rejuvenate while breathing in substances called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial organic compounds derived from trees.5
These compounds activate natural killer cells and help prevent cancer and other expressions of ill health.6. In Japan, forest bathing has now become a recognized form of stress management.
Forest bathing builds immunity by enabling you to breathe in antimicrobial essential oils from trees.
5. Reduce Stress And Inflammation
Researchers have confirmed that an immersive trip to a forest reduces levels of inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol.7
It sounds like an ideal way to spend the day: take a friend to hike in a forest. You can bring a picnic lunch with bone-nourishing foods, and allow nature to nurture you.
Spending time in a forest has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and inflammation. Take a bone-healthy picnic with you, and enjoy forest bathing.
6. Improve Your Concentration
You might think that lazing about in the park, or picnicking in a forest, would be antithetical to mental stimulation, but in fact, the opposite is true. Researchers found that the restorative effects of spending time in nature actually make it easier to concentrate on a task than trying to buckle down and make yourself focus.8
So the next time you’re attempting to finish a project that’s taking too much time and energy, take a break and take a walk in nature. You’ll be refreshed and ready to concentrate once again.
Spending time in nature is a great way to improve your concentration because it allows your brain to relax and rejuvenate.
7. Boost Your Memory
Nature helps the mind in yet another welcome way that’s particularly beneficial for older adults: in tandem with better concentration, spending time in nature is a natural memory enhancer.
One study found that those who walked in a serene environment, free from the typical ever-present stimulation of an urban stroll, showed a 20 percent improvement in recall, whereas those bombarded by noise and other stimuli showed no improvement after their walk.9
And, as Savers know, walking is an excellent way to strengthen your bones.
Walking in nature boosts recall, most likely because the absence of noise and distractions makes it easier to concentrate.
8. Heal Faster
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to love spending time outdoors, beyond enhancing memory, concentration, immunity, and mood, it turns out that natural light is a healing aid.
Scientists found that after spinal surgery, patients recovered faster and needed less pain medication when they were exposed to sunlight, suggesting that sunlight itself has medicinal value.10
In a study of post-surgical patients, sunlight promoted faster healing, with less need for pain medication, than in patients exposed to only dim interior light.
9. Become More Positive
In our distracted digital age, people feel that they’re more pressed for time than ever before, and are consequently more stressed about missing out and “getting everything done.” We can fall into patterns of overthinking, prompting the need to regain our balance.
One of the best ways to regain balance and expand our sense of time and well-being is — you guessed it — spending time in nature. Watching a sunset, sitting on a bluff overlooking the ocean, or viewing a mountain vista all inspire a sense of awe in natural beauty, which makes us more patient, present, and positive, according to recent research.11
Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to recapture a sense of awe and wonder, which in turn helps us slow down, and become more present and positive in our outlook.
10. Live Longer
The very best reason to spend time in nature? It’s the simplest way to boost longevity. Researchers found that American women living in rural areas, surrounded by greenery, had a lower rate of mortality than those in more urban areas.12
The researchers believe the greenery may counterbalance negative influences such as noise (as noted earlier), and encourage physical activity and social engagement, which have been demonstrated to increase longevity.12
Researchers have discovered that spending time outdoors increases longevity, because the natural settings support social interaction and exercise, and mitigate stimuli such as noise.
A Breath Of Fresh Air
Science has shown us that spending time outdoors in natural settings is one of the best, simplest steps we can take to support our bones and overall health and well-being. Now that the warmer weather is just around the corner give yourself the gift of time outside. Clearly, there’s a reason why the expression “like a breath of fresh air” refers to what is new and refreshing!
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1 Peter F. Schnatz, et al. “Calcium/vitamin D supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and cholesterol profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative calcium/vitamin D randomized trial.” Menopause, 2014; 1 Web. https://hsrc.himmelfarb.gwu.edu/smhs_medicine_facpubs/886/
2 Kim, H et al. “Effects of vitamin D supplementation and circuit training on indices of obesity and insulin resistance in T2D and vitamin D deficient elderly women.” Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry, 2014. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25566461/
3 Marc G. Berman et al., “Interacting with Nature Improves Cognition and Affect for Individuals with Depression.” Journal of Affective Disorders, 2012 Nov; 140(3): 300-305. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3393816/
4 Hon K. Yuen et al., “Factors associated with changes in subjective well-being immediately after urban park visit.” International Journal of Environmental Health Research, Feb. 13, 2019. Web. https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Rw6maPZfB2sZAhbS5pwK/full?target=10.1080%2F09603123.2019.1577368&
5 Qing Li, “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.” Environ Health Prev Med.15(1); 2010 Jan. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
6 Li Q, Morimoto K, Nakadai A, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Shimizu T, et al. “Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2007;20:3–8. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17903349
7 Mao GX et al., “Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zhejiang Province, China.” Biomed Environ Sci. 2012 Jun;25(3):317-24. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22840583
8 Terry Hartig et al., “Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences.” Sage Journals, January 1, 1991. Web. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916591231001
9 Marc G. Berman, “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature.” Sage Journals, December 1, 2008. Web. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
10 JM Walch et al. “The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal surgery.” Psychosom Med. 2005 Jan-Feb;67(1):156-63. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15673638
11 Melanie Rudd et al., “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time and Enhances Well-Being.” Psychological Science.
2012, Vol. 23, Issue 10, Pages 1130-1136. Web. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/awe-expands-peoples-perception-time-enhances-well-being
12 Peter James et al., “Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women”. Environmental Health Perspectives, Sept. 1, 2016. Web. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510363