Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

The Benefits of being in the Great Outdoors

Contribution by Jennifer Hollis

Man walking through the woods
Image by Susanna Marsiglia

People in the UK spend 90% of their time indoors, and over one third of parents feel their children are not spending enough time outside. As stated by Richard Louv (author of best-selling book Last Child in the Woods), ignoring the vital importance of nature to human health is taking its toll on our mental and physical health. He states, for instance, that “kids who don't get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems.” Spending too much time indoors also reduces the amount of unstructured play, and it negates the opportunity humans have to enjoy outdoor sports and activities. If you wondered what some of the surprising benefits of spending a few minutes in nature are, read on.

The Link Between Time In Nature And Environmentalism

If you have ever foraged for food in Cornwall, enjoyed a picnic made up of the bounties of nature, or undertook a bespoke foraging foray with your family, then you are probably more likely to lead a green lifestyle. Richard Louv warns that if we fail to raise children who have a truly personal and strong relationship with nature, they are unlikely to fight for a greener planet in their adulthood. He says, “Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world.” When personal experience disappears, so too does the natural inclination to make nature conservation an important part of life. 

The Mental Benefits Of Being Outdoors

For Carl Jung, nature offered majestic sites such as mountain ranges, oceans and dramatic landscapes that enabled human beings to feel connected to something larger than themselves and reminded them of the importance of feeding their spiritual life. His beliefs are back by science, which show that being in nature heals the mind as well as the body. Research undertaken by scientists at Cornell University, for instance, showed that just 10 minutes in a natural area lessens the effects of both physical and mental stress. To experience the full majesty of nature, try taking a ‘forest bath’ (called shinrin-yoku in Japan). This involves simply visiting a green area and opening all your senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and hearing) to all that is around you. Doing so has been shown to significantly reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Being Outside Will Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals

Around 37% of people in the UK never exercise or play sport, with many signing up for gym memberships only to give up after a few weeks of training. In order to stay motivated and to make exercise a truly enjoyable experience, taking your workout outside can help. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that there are very specific benefits that working out in outdoor settings can bring - including a big boost in mental wellbeing and a greater sense of enjoyment than is generally enjoyed when exercising indoors.

People in the UK spend the vast majority of their time indoors, citing the weather and a lack of time as the main reasons why. If nature was prioritised more in our society and by individuals, there could be numerous benefits for human health and wellbeing, as well as for our environment itself. With studies showing that just 10 minutes in nature can be a big boon to one’s happiness, there truly are many reasons to spend just a little bit of quiet or active time everyday in your favourite green or blue place.

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