Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on June 29, 2021

It Helps You Get Exercise

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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.

It Helps You Get Vitamin D

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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.

It Lessens Anxiety

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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.

It’s Social

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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.

It Improves Your Sleep

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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.

It Helps You Feel Better About Yourself

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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. 

It Improves Your Focus

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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.

It Gives You Better Immunity

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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.

It Boosts Your Creativity

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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.

It Helps You Keep A Healthy Weight

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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. 

What To Watch Out For

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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. 

Forest Bathing

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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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