Spending even five minutes a day engaged in physical activity outside in the natural world benefits your mental and physical health, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology. “Even if this isn’t news to you, it’s a powerful reminder to take advantage of nature’s myriad benefits,” according to Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates.

“Nature levels the playing field. Nobody can say they can’t afford nature, and nobody — no  matter how busy — can say that they can’t find five minutes in their day to get outside.”

For the biggest boost, think about color — the more the better. Green areas with water and settings with both green and blue (such as green foliage against a blue sky) are particularly beneficial.

More and more research is focusing on the “nature connection” and how it affects our physical and mental health, outlook and quality of life. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature — a park, a trail, the beach — the healthier you’re likely to be. Specifically, people who live within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of a wooded area or park experience less anxiety and depression than those who live farther away.

A Bounty of Benefits

The average American spends 90 percent of their life indoors, according to one government estimate. The next time you’re tempted to stay in and watch TV, or to eat lunch at your desk, get up and get outdoors to reap the benefits of time spent in nature.

The simple act of going outside leads to: 

  • Increased Vitamin D — Vitamin D is necessary for optimal health; it affects our cognitive functioning, immune system and bone health. It also aids in the prevention of cancer, hormonal problems, obesity and inflammation.
  • Better sleep — Exposure to bright, natural sunlight during the day and darkness at night helps set the body’s internal clock, alerting us to when it’s time to eat and sleep, and normalizing hormonal functions that occur at specific times throughout the day. Lack of natural light during our waking hours and exposure to artificial light in the evening disrupts these rhythms, negatively affecting our sleep and energy.
  • Elevated mood — Exposure to natural sunlight has been linked with a lower incidence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And because time spent outside is often dedicated to more active pursuits than time spent indoors, the physical activity will likely leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. In fact, if you forgo your indoor workout and get outdoors to exercise, you’ll experience greater energy, feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, as well as less tension, anger, depression and confusion.
  • Higher productivity — University of Michigan researchers found that people’s attention spans and memory performance improved by 20 percent after just an hour surrounded by nature. At the University of Kansas, researchers reported that people who were steeped in nature for a few days saw a 50 percent increase in creativity. In addition, studies have shown that children with ADHD seem to focus better after spending time outdoors.
  • Faster healing — Scientific evidence shows that hospital patients who are exposed to natural light tend to have shorter stays, fewer complications, less stress and pain, and require fewer pain medications.

Get Outdoors: Now is the best time

Remember all of that time you spent complaining about the cold this winter? That’s going to happen again, so take advantage of the summer!

Warmer temperatures and longer days make it seem like we have more time, so whether it’s a walk down the street after dinner, biking to work, or a weekend camping trip, take the time to make your own nature connection — and reap the mental and physical health rewards!

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