It’s well known that being outside, in the open, breathing in fresh, crisp, clean air helps reduce stress levels, clears your mind of all the jumbled, messy thoughts and feelings and rejuvenates you; body and mind. Especially in the lil old New Zealand. There’s a few reasons why the “great outdoors” are good for you:
1. Just being in nature helps you start to unwind
As adults, we spend our days multi-tasking with devices and pens and paper and all manner of internal thoughts. We jump from PC, to phone, iPad to phone, PC to iPad. Just when you thought you could escape there’s the Zoom meeting at 10am. Now a Teams meeting at 11.30 and all while you still haven’t finished your morning beverage. Then there’s that haunting sound coming from your PC, the dreaded “ding” of yet another email arriving in your already flooded inbox. The “To Do” list just never seems to shrink some days.
There’s always another task and it’s never ending. We’re all driving our minds to work a hundred miles an hour and we can end up feeling like the driver (YOU) is missing in action. We can end up feeling “virtualled out”!
That “To Do” list will still be there tomorrow so find 10 minutes to yourself and spend it outside. Take that break, drink that morning beverage outside in the fresh air. Just “be” in nature.
2. Get your body functioning better, pop outside for your daily dose of Vitamin D
Going outside to “get some Vitamin D” might sound overplayed to some of us, especially those whose parents would say it all the time or try to get us outside while they cleaned up. Even now, we find ourselves saying it to other people, maybe even our own children as we notice they spend more time on devices than we may like – especially with online schooling becoming a way of life for many at the moment. Getting outside to get Vitamin D is necessary. Even adults working in offices where they’re sunshine deprived might sneak outside on their fifth 5-minute coffee break.
But what does Vitamin D actually do for us?
Vitamin D promotes bone and dental health by helping your body maximise calcium absorption. It can also help to elevate your moods and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and more. Vitamin D also improves blood flow and cardiovascular health e.g blood pressure by literally relaxing your blood vessels.
3. Natural Light Normalizes Your Sleep Schedule
Getting a medically recommended dose of sunlight can help a number of bodily functions. Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to trigger an increase in serotonin, a hormone that has mood lifting functions. At night, your body would usually produce melatonin, a hormone that controls your body and essentially is what makes you sleepy.
The melatonin production is affected by sunlight and your brain (or pineal gland) doesn’t produce melatonin during exposure to sunlight. The melatonin-producing part of your brain (the pineal gland) is switched on when darkness sets in. The right amount of melatonin ensures you have a good night’s sleep—and wake feeling rejuvenated.
4. It Gives Your Brain the Downtime It Needs to Recharge
The human brain requires 20 percent of all the energy the body produces and this requirement increases by 5 to 10 percent when you’re focused on a mental challenge. When the body is at rest, however, the brain doesn’t cease activity—it just changes what it needs to do. When people are in a daydreaming state—something more easily achieved in nature’s serene environment—their brains settle into what scientists call the default mode network (or DMN). DMN is a complex circuit of coordinated communication between parts of the brain and is essential to mental processes that develop our understanding of human behaviour, instil an internal code of ethics, and help us realise our identities.
5. It Lowers Stress Hormone Levels
A recent Dutch study suggests that spending time in nature and performing repetitive tasks such as gardening can fight stress better than other leisure activities. In the study, one group of people was asked to read indoors after completing a stressful task while the other group was instructed to garden for 30 minutes. The gardeners not only reported being in a better mood than the readers, but also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While not everyone enjoys gardening, maybe our grandparents were on to something?
6. Breathing is Your Body’s Built-In Stress Buster
Research shows that breathing techniques have the ability to help dampen the production of those pesky stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) as well as train your body’s reaction to stressful situations. Rapid breathing engages your body’s sympathetic nervous system (that “fight or flight” response that you feel sometimes), which is activated by stress and works to energize the body.
Slow, deep breathing—the kind that can be encouraged by the great outdoors—stimulates the body’s parasympathetic reaction, which calms us down. By stopping to smell the roses, you can put the brake on your body’s natural stress response and chill out a bit. In particular, if you want to stop and smell the roses, there’s a number of public garden centres that you can visit throughout NZ – for a list of them, click here.
7. Oxygen Affects Your Sense of Well-being
Levels of oxygen in your brain are tied to levels of serotonin the hormone that is believed to be triggered by exposure to sunlight. Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter that affects your appetite, memory, social behaviour, moods as we mentioned before and other various internal processes. Too much serotonin and you can become tense and irritated, but too little serotonin and you can become depressed. Breathing fresh air can therefore help regulate your levels of serotonin and promote a feeling of happiness and well-being.
Highly oxygenated locations such as waterfalls can create an overall clear and calming effect, so including a waterfall hike in your next get away or even your weekend activities with yourself or with your family, can really help you start to relax. For some amazing waterfall locations that you could check out, click here.
8. Physical Activity Pumps Up Your Endorphins
The exercise that generally goes hand-in-hand with spending time out of doors (hiking, biking, water activities) spurs the production of endorphins, your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters—this is the sensation often referred to as a “runner’s high.” With increased endorphin levels, you’ll feel loose, clear-headed, and calm. Some great walks and treks can be found here and here.
With all that in mind, what are you waiting for?