You may be daunted by the idea of exploring the outdoor world. Long hikes up mountainsides and dangerous treks through the wilderness aren't accessible to everyone, after all. But just because you can't be a top athlete doesn't mean you should put off spending time outside.
The outdoor world has wide-reaching benefits for everyone, and it can come in small doses. Getting to the city park down the street is enough to take a load off your brain. Even if you just sit an enjoy nature, you can still feel how being outdoors changes your brain and your body.
Whether you want to reach mountain peaks or just relax on your lunch break, getting outside will never be a bad idea for you or your long-term health.
WHY THE OUTDOOR WORLD CAN CHANGE YOUR HEALTH
If you're trying to improve your health, one of the best steps you can take is getting into exercise. Working out in a gym has a lot of benefits. But, if you only ever work out indoors and never take your exercise into the outdoor world, you are actually missing out on a lot of mental and physical effects that indoor workouts won't give you.
Working out in, and even just being a part of, the outdoor world can change your mood, change your outlook on the world, and even change your body. Just the simple act of getting outdoors can elevate you. It not only alters your workout, but it also alters your life.
CHANGING YOUR BODY
If you already make working out a regular part of your life, you've got a good start. In addition to getting in shape, exercise boosts your mood and reduces stress. But if you're not taking opportunities to get outside, you're leaving concrete health benefits on the table.
Going into the outdoor world has positive impacts on the quality of your exercise and weight loss, strengthens body functions like your immune system, and can even increase your lifespan.
LET'S LOOK AT EXERCISE AND WEIGHT LOSS
If you've ever exercised in the outdoor world, surrounded by trees and fresh air, you know that exercise just feels easier.
You probably didn't know that it was tested in a study from the University of Essex.
The study tested cyclists who pedaled in front of green, gray, and red images. Those who looked at green images actually felt like they had expended less energy during their ride.
As good as any outdoors are for your health, adding some elevation makes it even better. If you've taken a hike or gone into the mountains, you're actually improving the physical effects of your workout.
Studies going as far back as 1957 have shown a correlation between prolonged time spent at altitude and weight loss. This happened even when subjects did no exercise other than light strolling. Likewise, people living at sea level are more likely to be obese than those who live at altitude.
Just hiking in the mountainous outdoor world is enough to get your heart rate pumping. But if you've been planning on taking a trip to the mountains, you'll probably come back a little lighter.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE BENEFITS YOU CAN'T SEE IN YOUR BODY
While you may notice some immediate physical changes from being outside, there are also a number of interior changes going on. While you may not notice these changes immediately, you'll appreciate them in the long run.
Getting outside for a minimum of 30 minutes every week can do a lot for the way your body works from within. A study done on residents of Brisbane, Australia, found that those who spent just half an hour a week in a green space were nine percent less likely to have high blood pressure.
You can also get out in nature to improve your vision. Having far-reaching, three-dimensional vistas rather than close, flat screens, is quite good for your eyes. Time spent in nature has actually been shown to slow or even reverse the progress of vision degeneration.
WHAT ABOUT ITS IMPACT ON LIFESPAN?
Now, simply being outside is not going to magically make you live longer. But taking advantage of green and natural environments can go a long way. Using them will decrease a lot of risk factors that can harm your health and shorten your life.
A study done in 2016 correlated nearby green space with a reduction of death from all nonaccidental causes. This included diseases of all kinds, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The study linked mental health and social engagement with the presence of more green space.
That is, just having access to green space makes you more likely to be around people, to take up exercise, and to put down cigarettes. This is true no matter who you are, where you're from, or where you live. So you may want to find out if there are any parks near you!
THE MARVELOUS BRAIN
Being in the outdoor world and around nature does wonders for your body. But it also can make big changes to one of your most important organs.
Your brain gets as much good from spending time outside as the rest of your body does. Getting into the outdoor world relaxes you. It changes the way your brain works and the way you think.
If you've been feeling tired, cranky, or in a rut lately, maybe getting outside can help.
SIMPLY BEING THERE
If exercising often is difficult, but you still want to get outside, there's good news. You don't actually have to exercise to get the mental benefits of going outdoors.
A popular practice in Japan is known as shinrin yoku, or forest bathing. Forest bathing is more of a spa day that you take in the park or in the woods, not so much a hike or climb.
To participate in forest bathing, all you need is a green space where you can go and relax for a little bit. You should engage all of your senses without letting other things, like cell phones, distract you.
Feel the trees and the grass. Smell and taste how fresh the air is. All you need to do is experience the slow pulse of nature and let it take your mind off everyday distractions. You can do any sort of activity while forest bathing, from walking to picnicking to painting.
It means you won't have to worry about whether or not you have time to exercise, and can focus on the relaxing effects of nature.
NOT JUST YOUR BRAIN, BUT YOUR THOUGHTS
Spending time in the outdoor world can change the way you think as well. This is especially helpful for work, as getting outside can make you more creative, attentive, and energized.
Too much time spent in the constant crush of city life is enough to overwhelm your brain. The prefrontal cortex, which focuses on critical thinking and problem solving, can get fatigued.
Taking around half an hour to rest your brain in a green space, however, is enough to help clear up the congestion.
Doing this taps into the imaginative aspects of your brain. Your mind starts to wander when the prefrontal cortex is not overloaded, and so flashes of inspiration and creativity are more available.
All in all, being in nature takes pressure off of your brain to always be focused on the next task. It lets you relax, so your brain's natural creative processes start to kick in. Spend some time outside when you have a problem to solve. You may be surprised at what you come up with.
NOW, ABOUT MOOD AND BRAIN FUNCTION
Getting outdoors isn't just good for your mind in short bursts. It can also have a lasting impact on your mood and the way your mind works.
Green space actually has a profound effect on mood. It can make you feel more connected and more meaningful. In fact, according to Self, people who are more connected with nature feel more like they are happy and well.
If you make a habit of spending time in nature, you'll even feel more like your life has meaning and purpose. It will change your outlook and even make it easier to get by.
CHANGING YOUR POINT OF VIEW
One more subtle thing getting outside can do is change your perspective on the world. Being out in nature on a regular basis can make you more compassionate. You'll find yourself caring more about protecting green spaces and the environment.
When you see what untouched nature, or even city parks, can do for you, you'll want to keep them around!
In fact, if you start using your local city park as a place to experience nature, you may find yourself wanting more. The more wild nature is, the more it helps improve your physical health. It also does more to reduce stress and make you feel better.
So, when you know that nature can do all these amazing things for you just by being there, it makes sense that you'd want to keep as much of it as wild as possible.
HOW TO GET INTO THE OUTDOOR WORLD
Whether you live in the middle of a major city or on the edge of a small town, you can see benefits from spending more time in the outdoor world. If working out on a regular basis is difficult, for whatever reason, there are still options.
You can find your own form of shinrin yoku at the closest park. Take your lunch, or a book, and just enjoy the trees and grass. Go there to do yoga or have a morning jog.
If you can, find time to get out -- way out. Go to your nearest state or national park for a weekend getaway. Spend a week in the mountains hiking, climbing, and skiing. The choices are all yours, and the whole world is yours to enjoy.
What is your favorite way to spend time in the outdoors? Let us know down in the comments!