Now more than ever, it's important to remind your patients of the benefits of the great outdoors — even if the great outdoors is limited to their front stoop. Let them know that they don't have to break social distancing to get the health benefits of being outside.
12 benefits of spending time outside
- Improved short-term memory. One study found that walks in nature improved scores on a memory test more than walks in a city street, and another found that walks in nature improved working memory for individuals with depression.
- Lowering stress levels. Walking in nature is proven to reduce cortisol levels. If there's nowhere nearby to walk, even just having a view of nature through your window can help you and your patients de-stress.
- Reduced inflammation. Your patients with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, or other problems caused by inflammation can see improvement by going outside. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce inflammation more than spending time in a city.
- Less fatigue. Mental fatigue can be reduced by exposing your mind to restorative environments, which includes nature. One study shows that simply looking at photos of nature is enough to boost your mental energy.
- Decreased depression and anxiety. An analysis of ten studies showed that walks in nature have great benefits for those who are mentally ill. When supplemented with other treatments, walks in the forest can reduce anxiety and depression and increase self-esteem.
- Better vision. Studies have found a connection between outdoor activity and a reduced risk of myopia in children. One study observed two Taiwanese schools with equal myopia rates, with one school encouraging outdoor activity during recess while the other did not. The result was a 17.65% myopia rate for the school without outdoor play and an 8.41% rate for the school with it.
- Lower blood pressure. Many, many studies have proven nature’s positive effect on blood pressure. A Japanese study of 280 people found that walks in nature lowered blood pressure by 2%, along with other benefits.
- Improved focus. The restorative property of nature means that spending time in nature can help you focus better. While this is good news for everyone, it’s been shown to be particularly helpful for children with ADHD, who’ve been found to concentrate better after spending 20 minutes in a park.
- Enhanced creativity. A study of people who spent four days immersed in nature found that their creative problem-solving performance improved by 50%. One doesn’t need to spend that long outside to see creative benefits, however. Much like the other benefits on this list, simply taking a walk in nature can help you and your patients get this benefit as well.
- Cancer prevention. Preliminary studies have found that spending time in nature helps the body produce anti-cancer proteins, and areas with greater forest coverage have lower cancer mortality rates. More studies are needed to prove a definitive connection, but the current data is promising.
- Boosted immune system. A review of research on this topic suggests that spending time outdoors can have positive effects on the immune system in the form of strengthening its response against mild illnesses. This is another field which requires more study, but early findings are positive.
- A longer life. All of the above benefits seem to add up to a lower risk of early death for those who spend time outdoors. Large, extensive studies have shown that exposure and proximity to green spaces lessens the risk of many diseases and leads to overall better health.
With these points in mind, you should enjoy nature as much as you can and encourage your patients to do the same, especially during this difficult time. If you can, take a walk in a nearby forest (while following social distancing), sit out on your porch, or open a window to get some natural sunlight. Your body and mind will be better for it.