People who live in regions where winters are cold often note the feeling of rejuvenation they enjoy on the first warm day of late-winter or spring. The chance to get outside and soak up some sun while breathing some warm air is a feeling unlike any other for those who spend much of their winters bundled up in layers of clothing.
The value of spending time outdoors extends well beyond dusting off winter cabin fever, providing long-term benefits that might surprise even the most ardent outdoor enthusiast. A 2018 report from researchers at the University of East Anglia found that living close to nature and spending time outside has wide-ranging health benefits, including a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Authors of the report studied data from across the globe, gathering evidence from more than 140 studies involving more than 290 million people.
Researchers cannot pinpoint exactly why people who spend ample time in greenspaces enjoy better health. However, the benefits appear to be so wide-ranging as to suggest that people who currently do not spend much time in greenspaces should make a concerted effort to do so. The following are a handful of ways busy individuals can start spending more time outdoors.
• Dine al fresco. On nights when the weather is fair, take dinner into the great outdoors. People who live in private homes can dine on the patio or on the deck in the backyard, while apartment dwellers can make use of local parks for nighttime picnics or dine on balconies or rooftop recreational areas, which have become popular in crowded metropolitan areas. Rooftops and balconies may not pass the "Is it greenspace?" test, but dining in such areas can be more relaxing than an apartment dining nook.
• Get off the couch. Don't hesitate to get outside when night falls. Spend time in the backyard or go for nightly walks around the neighborhood or in a nearby park. Say so long to television binging sessions, making healthier and more beneficial use of nightly free time by utilizing nearby greenspaces.
• Go hiking on weekends. Even city dwellers no doubt live within driving distance of local hiking areas. Hiking provides a host of cardiovascular benefits and can make for a great, full-body workout. Researchers associated with the UEA report suggested that the practice of forest bathing, which is popular in Japan and promotes spending time sitting down or lying in nature, exposes people to a diverse array of bacteria present in natural areas that may benefit the immune system and reduce inflammation.
People who think that accessing nature is helping them to stay healthy aren't wrong. In fact, making time to include nature in your daily or weekly routine can have positive and wide-ranging effects on your overall health.