As we pursue opportunities to improve our well-being practices in an accessible, pleasant, and continuous fashion, lets turn our attention to the profound health-enhancing effects of guiding we humans out of doors! On a continuum, our exposure to the outdoors can range from simply stepping outside to experience the cool air, glorious sky, and gentle breeze, to immersing ourselves in a planned forest walk with the intention of creating the well-researched nature effect. In children, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens the literature clearly presents a myriad of physiological and psychological effects from outdoor exposure and should be integrated into work, school, family, and clinical environments.
Children who have regular opportunities to spend time outside are reportedly happier, less stressed, and experience higher levels of self-esteem. Outdoor free play and movement, additionally stimulate creativity, cognition, and critical thinking with children scoring higher on memory tests following these activities in a school environment. Increases in concentration for children with ADHD have resulted from time spent in greenspaces; one study revealed a positive linear relationship between green exposure and the mitigation of symptoms associated with ADHD.
The challenges faced by adolescents in today’s society are both daunting and unprecedented. Spending time in nature can reduce symptoms of depression and stress, while improving outlook and resilience. One study collected data from teens regarding their perceptions of nature experiences—they reportedly felt more calm and less anxious, more fit, and physically healthy. In fact, the majority of the teens expressed the desire to spend more time outside in nature and concern for their opportunity to do so.
The benefits of spending time in nature among adults are many, including reductions in blood pressure and stress hormones, increased immune functioning and a decreased incidence of some prevalent lifestyle-related diseases. We may consider this preventative medicine, with one study finding a 12% lower mortality rate in people who had the most “green exposure” out of doors—the biggest reductions were in cancer, lung disease and kidney disease. The nature exposure does not need to be complicated, as further research found that exposure to trees, the sky, and birds singing improved mental well-being.
As we age, we can expect changes in our immunes system’s ability to fight off disease, along with perhaps cognition and memory challenges among other things. We will certainly need to make some emotional and psychological adjustments to embrace and even celebrate an aging body and life’s later-stage chapter. Time out of doors simply sitting but even better gently moving, can have a powerful impact on our mood, optimism, and overall well-being, helping us to pause and be present with the current moment and blessings. Clearly, the beauty and majesty that can be found out of doors is laying in wait for us; it is free, and it is also priceless!