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How Time Spent Outdoors Can Make You Healthier

Posted On: 17.05.12

Next time you're out for a hike in the woods pay attention to how good you feel. Did you know that mother nature can provide healthy boosts to your mental and physical well being! So why is nature so important?  Here are a 6 great reasons according to Lauren Friedman & Kevin Loria:


1. Restored mental energy


You know that feeling where your brain seems to be sputtering to a halt? Researchers call that "mental fatigue." One thing that can help get your mind back into gear is exposing it to restorative environments, which, research has found, generally means the great outdoors. One study found that people's mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect.) Studies have also found that natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, which is one of the surest ways to experience a mental boost.


Sources: Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995; Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2005; Psychological Science, 2012


2.  Stress relief


Tensed and stressed? Head for the trees. One study found that students sent into the forest for two nights had lower levels of cortisol — a hormone often used as a marker for stress — than those who spent that time in the city. In another study, researchers found a decrease in both heart rate and levels of cortisol in subjects in the forest when compared to those in the city. "Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy," they concluded. Among office workers, even the view of nature out a window is associated with lower stress and higher job satisfaction.


Sources: Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, 2007; Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 2010; Japanese Journal of Hygiene, 2011; Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012


3. Better vision


At least in children, a fairly large body of research has found that outdoor activity may have a protective effect on the eyes, reducing the risk of developing nearsightedness (myopia).

"Increasing time spent outdoors may be a simple strategy by which to reduce the risk of developing myopia and its progression in children and adolescents," a 2012 review of the research concluded.

An Australian study that followed almost 2,000 schoolchildren for two years found that more time spent outdoors was associated with a lower prevalence of myopia among 12-year-olds. The same association was not found for those who spent a lot of time playing sports indoors, suggesting the connection was about more than physical activity. In Taiwan, researchers studied two nearby schools where myopia was equally common. They told one school to encourage outdoor activity during recess and monitored the other as a control. After one year, the rate of myopia in the control school was 17.65%; in the "play outside" school, it was just 8.41%.


Sources: Ophthalmology, 2008; Ophthalmology, 2012; Ophthalmology, 2013


4. Improved concentration


We know the natural environment is "restorative," and one thing that a walk outside can restore is your waning attention. In one early study, researchers worked to deplete participants' ability to focus. Then some took a walk in nature, some took a walk through the city, and the rest just relaxed. When they returned, the nature group scored the best on a proofreading task.

Other studies have found similar results — even seeing a natural scene through a window can help.

The attentional effect of nature is so strong it might help kids with ADHD, who have been found to concentrate better after just 20 minutes in a park. "'Doses of nature' might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool ... for managing ADHD symptoms," researchers wrote.


Sources: Environment & Behavior, 1991; Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995 (2);Journal of Attention Disorders, 2008


5. Improved mental health


Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may all be eased by some time in the great outdoors — especially when that's combined with exercise. (This is to be expected, to some extent, as both greenery and exercise are known to reduce stress.) One study found that walks in the forest were specifically associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and another found that outdoor walks could be "useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments" for major depressive disorder. "Every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood," found an analysis of 10 earlier studies about so-called "green exercise," and "the mentally ill had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements." The presence of water made the positive effects even stronger.


Sources: Environmental Science and Technology, 2010; Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012; Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013



6. Reduced inflammation


Inflammation is a natural process the body uses to respond to threats like damage (e.g., a stubbed toe) and pathogens (e.g., exposure to the flu). But when inflammation goes into overdrive, it's associated in varying degrees with a wide range of ills including autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cancer. Spending time in nature may be one way to help keep it in check. In one study, students who spent time in the forest had lower levels of inflammation than those who spent time in the city. In another, elderly patients who had been sent on a weeklong trip into the forest showed reduced signs of inflammation as well as some indications that the woodsy jaunt had a positive effect on their hypertension.


Sources: Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012; Journal of Cardiology, 2012


There are a lot of factors that may contribute to the benefits of nature - the best option is to get outside and experience them for yourself. Find whatever works for you and take your family with you. At CottageClub Ghost Lake, you'll discover natural wonders right in your own backyard. A freshwater lake flanked by the majestic snowcapped Rockies provides an escape from the ordinary. A network of pathways throughout the community connects you to trails for relaxing strolls or heart pumping runs. To find out more contact us or book a private tour... we're located only 35 mins west of Calgary.



Credits: Lauren F Friedman & Kevin Loria, Tech Insider, Business Insider 2016

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