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The science of being outdoors

| Apr 29, 2021

Kid on Bike

Harvard Medical School reports that spending time outdoors benefits a person’s well-being as long as precautions are taken, such as wearing sunscreen and keeping track of air quality concerns.  

Children benefit the most, which is why parents often encourage outside play. Studies show children spent up to six hours a day on electronic screens, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic required virtual classroom participation for many.  But outdoor activities include more than twice as much physical movement as indoor activities.  

Adults can also benefit from outside activities, as light and physical movement provide benefits. Researchers from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom report that exercise in the presence of nature — “green exercise” —  provides measurable benefits to self-esteem and mood.  

Walks in parks, on trails or even through a neighborhood can provide connections to nature such as hearing birds chirping, feeling a breeze and smelling blooming flowers and trees. One study showed a group that spent time outside hiking reported better feelings than a group that spent the same amount of time running inside on a treadmill. While both groups reported more benefits than a sedentary group, the outside exercise group reported better results.  

Other benefits to outside activity include burning more calories, often because, once outside, people tend to stay outside longer. Seeing nature also makes people feel better and can lower blood pressure. Adults report that outside exercise is often more fun than similar activities performed in a gym. Fresh air makes a difference.  

The next time you think about skipping a workout or heading outside for a walk, be aware that the outside option is best. Outside, the benefits of sunshine and fresh air can help ward off depression, relieve stress and be a social activity. Bonus: outside activities are free.

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