When it is cold outside it can be tempting to stay huddled up indoors eating tempting Christmas treats, but there are some enormous health and wellbeing benefits to getting outdoors into nature. After an exceptionally stressful year, we have researched some of the best reasons to get outdoors and let nature soothe our frayed nerves this winter.
There are many studies that have shown that people exercising outdoors feel as if they have expended less effort, even if the amount of work they have done is the same, meaning that exercise seems easier. Running or walking on uneven ground works the muscles harder and improves your balance and factors such as wind resistance and hills increase the intensity of your workout whilst making it seem easier. Added to the other physiological and psychological benefits of being outdoors and particularly in woodland, exercising outdoors can really boost your health and mental wellbeing.
Forest bathing is the idea of immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a woodland for a short period of time, and research into its benefits has found that it lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Other stress markers such as adrenaline and noradrenaline also fall after time is spent in natural surroundings. Blood pressure has been found to return to baseline levels more quickly after exercising in natural environments and being in a forest reduces heart rate.
Spending a lot of time outdoors is known to boost your immune system by increasing your vitamin D levels. Forests also have an important role to play in improving immune function, as they increase Natural Killer lymphocyte cell activity both during the visit and for an astonishing 30 days afterwards. This is thought to be due to breathing in phytoncides, essential oils from wood and demonstrates that even intermittent time spent outdoors has lasting beneficial effects.
Studies have consistently found that exercising in natural surroundings has a wealth of benefits for mental wellbeing including boosting your self-esteem. Exercising outdoors also reduces depression, anxiety and tension, regardless of the type of activity, so it is the fact of being outdoors that has the greatest impact.
We all know that taking a walk or run outdoors is a great way to clear your head but there is scientific evidence that demonstrates this. Forest walks have been shown to improve working memory, and in one study a walk through an arboretum improved the participants memory test performance by 20%. Similarly a walk through woodland can improve your ability to focus and has been shown to help concentration in children with ADHD.
After a year of spending a lot of time indoors, the holiday season is a great time to get outdoors and improve your physical and mental wellbeing ready for the New Year.