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It Helps You Get Exercise

Walking outside makes you more likely to exercise, especially if you’re a kid. You don’t need a gym membership, transportation, or special equipment: Just walk right out your door. You can do many gym exercises at your local park with a simple incline, pull up bar, or set of steps. The push of the wind and the uneven ground can help you vary your workout and burn more calories.

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It Helps You Get Vitamin D

It's important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. It also helps your body absorb more of certain minerals, like calcium and phosphorus. Your body needs sunlight to make it, but you don't need much. In the summer, just getting sun for 5 to 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week, should do it. In the winter, you might need a bit more.

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It Lessens Anxiety

Even a simple plant in the room, or pictures of nature, can make you feel less anxious, angry, and stressed. But it’s better if you get out of that room and go out. Exercise is good for anxiety too. But it’s even better if you do it outside, compared to inside a gym. Sunlight helps keep your serotonin levels up. This helps raise your energy and keeps your mood calm, positive, and focused.

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It’s Social

When you get outside your house, it’s not only Mother Nature you see. You also connect more with the people and places in your community. Human contact and a sense of community are important to your mental health. Plan a walking route to a friend’s house, and then to the park to do some exercise. Finish up at the local coffee shop. You might be surprised how good it makes you feel.

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It Improves Your Sleep

The outdoors helps set your sleep cycle. Cells in your eyes need enough light to get your body’s internal clock working right. Early morning sunlight in particular seems to help people get to sleep at night. This may be more important as you age. When you're older, your eyes are less able to absorb light, and you’re more likely to have problems with sleep.

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It Helps You Feel Better About Yourself

As little as 5 minutes of outdoor activity can help improve your self-esteem. This is especially true if you’re near water or green space. And it’s not high-intensity exercise that does it best. More relaxed activity like a walk, bike ride, or work in the garden seems to work even better. 

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It Improves Your Focus

It makes sense, if only for the bit of exercise you get when you do something outside. But studies show that it’s not just the activity, it’s the “greenness” of the outdoor space. In one study, kids with ADHD were able to concentrate better on a task after a walk in the park than they were after a walk through an urban area.

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It Gives You Better Immunity

Better vitamin D production because of more sunlight is already good for your immune system. But the outdoors seems to help in other ways. Many plants put substances, including organic compounds called phytoncides, into the air that seem to boost immune function. Sunlight also seems to energize special cells in your immune system called T cells that help fight infection.

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It Boosts Your Creativity

Do you have a knotty problem you can't solve? Struggling with writer's block? Spend time outside. Studies show that time in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities. This is partly because the outside world engages your attention in a quieter way that lets your attention refocus. The more time you spend, the bigger the benefit, but even just "getting out for some air" can nudge your brain into a new thought pattern.

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It Helps You Keep A Healthy Weight

Outdoor time will help you be more active and sleep better. Both these things help you burn calories. But getting outside in the morning in particular may help you keep the fat off. That’s partly because the light helps balance your sleep and energy use. But there may other reasons as well. You need 20-30 minutes between 8 a.m. and noon to make a difference, but the earlier you get it, the better it works. 

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What To Watch Out For

Protect yourself from the sun with long sleeves, sunglasses, and a hat. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 15 or higher, even when it’s cloudy. Try to let people know where you go, especially if you’re going alone into a wilderness area. Grab a jacket if the weather looks iffy, and charge your phone in case you need a map or to call someone. Remember, your phone may not work in some areas, especially in the woods. 

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Forest Bathing

It doesn’t involve an actual bath in the forest. It means that you spend time in a forest environment to help improve physical and mental health. The Japanese call it Shinrin Yoku. Several studies show that it can help boost your energy, immune system, and energy levels, as well as help you sleep better and recover faster if you get sick. But you don't need a study to know that it just feels good.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/09/2019 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 09, 2019

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SOURCES:

AARP: "Walk Your Way to a Better Life."

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Natural Light May Benefit Seniors' Biorhythms, Sleep and Health,” “The Sun, UV Radiation and Your Eyes.”

American Council on Exercise: “6 Benefits of Exercising Outdoors,” “Get Out! 5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise.”

American Forests: “Shirin-Yoku: Why Forest Bathing Became a Global Health Phenomenon.”

CDC: “Skin Cancer: Sun Safety.”

Environmental Health Perspectives: “Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health.”

Environmental Science & Technology: “Green exercise may be good for your head.”

Frontiers in Psychology: "How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway."

Georgetown University Medical Center: “Sunlight Offers Surprise Benefit – It Energizes Infection Fighting T Cells.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “A prescription for better health: go alfresco.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature?”

Medscape: “Filtered Sunlight Effective Against Jaundice in Neonates.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Walking: A Step in the Right Direction.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Circadian Rhythm and Your Body Clock.”

Psychological Science: "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature."

Northwestern University: “Morning Rays Keep Off the Pounds.”

PlosOne: “Timing and Intensity of Light Correlate with Body Weight in Adults,” "Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings."

Skin Cancer Foundation: “Sunscreen.”

Shinrinyoku.org: “Shinrin Yoku.”

Stanford Medicine: “Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection.”

University of Minnesota: “How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?”

World Health Organization: “The known health effects of UV.”

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 09, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.