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Saturday, April 22nd is Earth Day and along with considering each of our impacts on the planet, you might think about how your relationship to our world impacts wellness and wellbeing. There’s growing evidence that time spent outside isn’t only good for your physical body. It can benefit your tolerance to stress, overall mental health, and even your sense of connection to others.
Time spent outside improves mood and self-perception of being well (MacKerron & Mourato, 2013), as well as reducing stress and improving concentration which benefits productivity (Capaldi et al., 2015). Getting outside increases overall energy and vitality, and research shows it boosts your sense of connection to other people and the world (Capaldi et al., 2015).
Here, we look at the various benefits of taking some time to get outdoors, no matter how you get outdoors.
In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries introduced the term Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, as a mindfulness practice of immersing yourself in a forest environment. Since that time, research has shown a variety of benefits.
Forest Bathing has been shown to improve overall cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune system functions, lower inflammation, improve mood, and alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms (Wen et al, 2019). One meta-analysis showed that those who “forest bathe” have lower levels of cortisol after time in the woods, implying forest bathing can be a way to cope with acute stress.
The benefits of forest bathing aren’t only short-term. A study of adults with hypertension and pre-hypertension showed time spent forest bathing reduced high blood pressure, improved resting heart rate and heart rate variability, and perceived quality of life (Yau & Loke, 2020).
You don’t have to move to a remote log cabin. Even if you live in a big city, you can reap the benefits of shinrin-yoku. Time spent in a park enjoying green spaces or short getaways can have a profound impact. Even short bouts of time spent looking at the sky or gazing up at a group of trees have been shown to lower blood pressure, slow breathing, and boost mood.
Another internationally inspired activity to get you outside and boost your wellness is plogging, which is a combination of the Swedish words for “jogging” and “to pick up”. Ploggers gather in a group and run through littered environments, trash bags in hand, cleaning up the garbage as they go.
According to research on motivation, one way to get yourself up and moving is to tie your activities to a sense of meaning and purpose (Ingledew et al., 2019). Plogging can be a great way to use your outdoor activities to benefit your local environment and community. From a movement perspective, plogging involves squatting, lunging, bending, and carrying which can have additional movement benefits (Raghavan, Panicker, & Emmatty, 2020).
Even if running isn’t appealing and you live far from forests, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a connection with the outdoors. Whether vegetables or flowers, in a big yard or a window box, growing something has also been shown to benefit wellness and wellbeing.
Tending a garden not only helps people feel more connected to nature, but also fosters a sense of achievement and appreciation of the beauty and aesthetics of the garden itself (Scott, Masser, & Pachana, 2015). Even casual community gardeners see their small gardens as a refuge, relieving stress and increasing health-promoting behaviors outside the garden fence (Genter, et al., 2015). Gardening has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, boosting mental health (Clatworthy, Hinds, & Camic, 2013).
Don’t have access to outdoor space? Growing something in the great indoors has benefits too. Nurturing houseplants or having a window garden boosts overall life satisfaction, improves creativity and productivity, and even mitigates symptoms of PTSD (Hall & Knuth, 2019).
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Earth Day isn’t only about our impact on our world. It can be an opportunity to reflect on all the wonderful things being on this planet brings to our lives. Better yet, to get outside and experience them for us.
Through connection with the natural world, we foster the sense that we’re part of a greater whole, which research shows benefits our mood, outlook on life, and overall sense of purpose and wellbeing.