Health & Wellness

Ecopsychology: 3 Science-Based Health Benefits of Going Outside

There are several surprising benefits to simply going outside. In fact, nature comes with science-based benefits that are detailed in the study of ecopsychology.

I’ve found that not many people know much about ecopsychology, so let’s take some time to learn more about these benefits and how you can take advantage of them.

What is Ecopsychology?

The benefits of being in nature are so vast for humans that an entire field has been developed to study the interactions between humans and nature. It’s called Ecopsychology—and it’s fascinating!

First coined in a book by Theodore Roszak, a professor who sought to combine emotional sensitivity with scientific expertise, ecopsychology was created to show that psychology as a whole can’t be separated from the natural desire of humans to connect with their environment. [1]

Ecopsychology posits that in order to achieve true mental and physical wellness, humans need to establish and maintain a connection with nature. And one of the best ways to do that is to go outside and spend time in a natural setting—whether that’s your back yard or garden, a local park, or a walking trail.

So, how does being outside in nature benefit your mental and physical health? Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of spending time outdoors.

 

Ecopsychology - Dr. Pingel

 

3 Benefits of Going Outside

Here are three incredible benefits of going outside.

1. Relieves stress and anxiety

One of the more immediate benefits of being outside is how it can reduce your levels of stress and anxiety.

As you may recall, grounding exercises are quick techniques designed to reduce stress and anxiety by making you more aware of your surroundings in the present moment. And these exercises are usually rooted in an outdoor environment.

They work to help alleviate stress and anxiety by helping you to connect with nature. This practice is also known as earthing, which includes activities such as walking barefoot outside or sitting in the grass, to better connect with the Earth and be in the here and now. [2]

Meanwhile, other studies have also shown that simply just being surrounded nature is enough to reduce stress and anxiety

According to a 2015 study, people who walked through a “green space,” meaning a natural setting (such as park or nature trail), experienced lower frustration, engagement, and arousal. [3]

And a 2012 study revealed that if green space makes up less than 30 percent of your surroundings, you’re more likely to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. [4]

So, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, spend a few minutes outside to see if it helps to calm and restore you.

2. Increases vitamin D production

Believe it or not, more than 46 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. [5] And since we know that vitamin D is essential for promoting cell growth, lowering inflammation, reducing blood pressure, and helping the immune system work properly, this is one nutrient you need to be sufficient in!

In fact, studies have shown that while the best benefit of sunlight exposure is the fact that it helps to boost your body’s natural vitamin D, a majority of the cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to a lack of outdoor sun exposure. [6]

Plus, since we know vitamin D is crucial for optimal immune health, you’ll also be giving your immune system some much-needed support.

To get the most vitamin D benefits from your time outdoors, I recommend spending 15 to 20 minutes in the sun before you apply sunscreen. [7]


3. Sharpens focus

If you think back to your fondest childhood memories, odds are that images outdoor play spring to mind. So, would you believe that researchers found that the average American child spends only four to seven minutes playing outside each day? [8]

It gets worse, too: They also spend more than seven hours each day in front of some type of screen.

While it’s natural for kids to want to be in front of screens, research has found that increased screen time has been linked to heightened anxiety in children and even an increased risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, a 2019 study revealed that when children who were diagnosed with ADHD took a 20-minute walk in nature, their symptoms improved as much as if they took prescription medication. [9]

The symptoms that improved? Attention span and self-discipline.

We know that simply taking a walk outside can do wonders for boosting creativity, so is it any wonder that it does the same for focus?

Personally, I’ve always found walking outside to be a great way to clear my mind. It’s how I come up with some of my best ideas.

So, the next time you feel distracted or you’re in a creative slump, or if your child is having trouble focusing, take a few moments to enjoy some time outdoors. Even just 15 to 20 minutes may be enough to reset your mind to improve focus and get those creative juices flowing!

 

Key Takeaways

  • There are several surprising benefits to simply going outside. In fact, nature comes with science-based benefits that are detailed in the study of ecopsychology.
  • Ecopsychology posits that in order to achieve true mental and physical wellness, humans need to establish and maintain a connection with nature. And one of the best ways to do that is to go outside and spend time in a natural setting.
  • Some of the top benefits of being outside include relieving stress and anxiety, increasing your vitamin d production, and sharpening your focus.

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