These 5 benefits of spending time outside may surprise you

Many of us know the basics for positive wellbeing — exercise consistently, sleep well, eat right — but what if we’re overlooking a crucial and simple component of health? Emerging research shows that adding time outside to our wellness routines can bring powerful benefits.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we’re encouraged to evaluate the state of our own wellbeing and integrate helpful tips for managing stress and staying healthy. L.L.Bean recently partnered with Mental Health America to help raise awareness by “going off the grid” (logging off our social channels) and sharing tips, research and insights on how to make the most of what is all around us. Together with L.L.Bean wellness operations expert Stephanie Harvie, we explored some of the facts that surprised us the most about nature’s power in our lives.

1. Nature can positively affect our mood and mental health

Exploring nature can provide wide-reaching benefits, helping to alleviate stress and providing physiological benefits like lower blood pressure and enhanced immune system function. “Being mindful in nature helps re-center your mind and energy level and can have a really big impact in controlling your nervous system and preparing yourself for the rest of the day,” Harvie said.

And, studies show self-reported improvements in focus, mood and even depression following time spent outside. In one experiment, researchers “cleaned and greened” empty lots in urban areas, removing trash and planting trees, flowers and grass. They found that a staggering 41.5% of nearby residents of one green lot reported a decrease in depressive feelings compared to those who lived by untouched lots.

2. Even a small amount of daily outside time makes a difference

Though it’s tempting to equate “spending time in nature” with long hikes, all-day fishing trips and other time-intensive activities, evidence suggests that even a few minutes outside can make a difference in our mental health. “I want to normalize the idea that doing anything has impact,” Harvie said. “If you don’t have much time, changing your position or going outside can help.”

In a meta-analysis of studies, scientists found that just 10 minutes in nature provides psychological and physiological benefits. And, the more time spent outside the better. Researchers conducted a survey of 20,000 people and found respondents who spent 120 minutes outside weekly are substantially more likely to say they feel a strong sense of wellbeing.

3. Outdoor experiences make us better people

An emerging area of research called “The Science of Awe” studies the distinct feelings of mystery and wonder we experience in nature and the impressive range of benefits received from them. L.L.Bean partner and researcher Dr. Paul Piff found that experiencing awe helps increase ethical decision making, generosity and “pro-social” values like compassion. When we connect with the spaces around us, it also helps us plug into our communities, offering societal benefits beyond the individual.

4. Even hearing or thinking of nature can help

Engaging your senses through nature creates surprising effects. Scientists found that people who were exposed to nature sounds — like crickets chirping or waves crashing — performed better on tests than those who listened to sounds from the city. And other research noted that visualizing nature can help provide physiological benefits, meaning we can access the power of the outdoors at any time and from anywhere. “I would recommend having a place in mind that has been meaningful to you, or a place that inspires you to feel peace outdoors,” Harvie said.

5. Some spaces seem to have more healing power

It’s clear that enjoying nature in any capacity is helpful, but scientists are finding that not all spaces are created equal. Though green spaces have long been confirmed as aids to our wellbeing, research has found that blue spaces (waterside locations), remote areas, nature reserves and habitats are also highly beneficial. In fact, studies show that exposure to a variety of natural environments can produce positive outcomes.

As we learn more about the benefits of nature, it is clear that there are seemingly endless ways to experience the restorative power of the outdoors. So, don’t be discouraged by your level of experience or time constraints. Rather, establish a routine that inspires you, and find spaces that give you an easy opportunity to tap into the health benefits provided by time spent outside.

“Taking care of yourself is mission critical,” Harvie added. “Learning how to manage stress helps you bring your fullest self to work and to life.”

Join L.L.Bean in “going off the grid” and heading outside during Mental Health Awareness Month, and learn more by checking out these resources from L.L.Bean.

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