Ten benefits of spending time outdoors

Jane Murphy / 02 March 2015

Yes, fresh air really can do you the world of good – from feeling happier to helping you sleep better. So what are you waiting for?



1. You'll feel happier in minutes

Just five minutes of exercise in an outdoor green space is enough to significantly lift your mood. That's according to a study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal. And you don't have to make that much effort to feel the effects: relatively low-impact activities such as walking, gardening and fishing all helped boost self-esteem.

Read our guide to boosting your happiness

2. You'll burn more calories

You don't need us to tell you that you'll expend more energy if you get off the sofa and go for a walk. But even if you exercise indoors - by walking on a treadmill in the gym, for example - you still won't see the same benefits as you would in the open air. The reason? The varied terrain, gradient and weather outdoors puts more demands on your body, and uses a wider range of muscles - meaning you'll burn up to five per cent more calories.

Find more gym-free fitness tricks here

3. You'll have healthier bones

Vitamin D is essential for bone health as it promotes calcium absorption from our food. And the best source of vitamin D? Sunlight! In general, you should try to get 10 minutes of sun exposure to your bare skin once or twice a day, according to National Osteoporosis Society (www.nos.org.uk) recommendations. Remember, even on cloudy days, your body can still manufacture vitamin D from sunlight; it just takes a little longer.

Read our guide to helping to prevent osteoporosis

4. You'll exercise for longer

Exercise outdoors and you'll stick at it for longer than if you keep fit behind closed doors. Older adults who are physically active outdoors accumulate significantly more minutes of exercise, according to a US study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. On average, the outdoor exercisers clocked up 30 minutes more activity per week than their indoor counterparts.

Read our guide to getting the most fitness benefits from your usual walks

5. You'll save money

There are lots of ways that getting outdoors can save you pennies. A few suggestions? Walking to the shops instead of taking the car means you won't have to pay for petrol or parking. Growing your own veg will knock money off your shopping bill. And while you're out and about, you won't be spending so much on heating and lighting your home.

Find out how gardening can help you keep fit

6. You'll make new friends

You're unlikely to make many friends while you're sitting in your own front room. But join a walking group or community gardening project, for example, and you're guaranteed to meet lots of new and interesting people. You'll also discover new places and develop fresh skills. Find your nearest Walk For Health scheme at www.walkingforhealth.org.uk.

Read more about how to combat loneliness

7. You'll feel less stressed

The key here is not just to get outside - but to head off for a walk through the woods. In Japan, this is known as 'Shrinrin-yoku' or 'forest bathing'. When people go for a woodland walk, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced by nearly 16 per cent more than if they simply stroll through an urban environment, according to a Japanese study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. The researchers also found that blood pressure levels were lower after just 15 minutes of walking.

Want to know more? Read our guide to woodland workouts

8. You'll sleep better

Get outside and do some exercise during the day - and you'll enjoy a much more fitful night's slumber. People who indulge in at least two-and-a-half hours' physical activity each week enjoy a 65 per cent improvement in sleep quality, according to a study at Oregon State University. And if you're lucky enough to live by the sea - or make an effort to visit the coast regularly - you may well sleep better than your inland counterparts. The reason? Sea air contains charged negative hydrogen ions, which boost our ability to absorb oxygen - meaning we'll feel more energised throughout the day and more rested at night.

Find out more about how to get a good night's sleep

9. You'll give your eyes a rest

Spend all day focusing on TV and computer screens indoors - and you're likely to suffer from eye strain, headaches and even long-term sight damage. But step outside and there's so much more to look at, which will give your eyes the workout they so desperately need. Focusing on distant objects relaxes the eye muscles, which helps lessen the strain.

Read our guide to eye health

10. You'll boost your memory

Need extra incentive to go for a walk on a miserable day? Spending an hour outdoors, interacting with nature, leads to an average 20% boost in short-term memory and attention span, according to a study at the University of Michigan. The researchers noted the effects were the same regardless of the weather.

Five ways to supercharge your memory





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