We all know about getting our 10,000 steps in per day, but did you know you also need 120 minutes per week in nature? Spending time outdoors is essential for our mental health and well-being but how much do we need to spend to have a real impact? We know that being outside makes us feel good, but why? And how much is enough?
A scientific study in June 2019 by Mathew P. White (an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Medical School, UK), was conducted. Over 20,000 people in England took part in the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey. There were asked to record their activities and exposure to nature over the course of a week. The study found that all ages, genders and abilities who spent 120 minutes or more outdoors had improved wellbeing and good health!
Positive affects peaked between 200-300 min. The good news is that it doesn’t matter how you allocate your time, whether its 20min a day, or a 2-hour hike, the benefits to your sense of wellbeing are the same.
Let’s have a closer look at some more benefits.
That’s right, when you are outdoors in nature you are less likely to experience stress. Research has shown that nature therapy is actually being prescribed by professionals to lower stress levels. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, you are physically away from the home, from your household duties and any visual stressor (the un-tidied bedroom, baskets of laundry etc). You also don’t feel compelled to be “getting on” with something else! The good old guilt creeps up on you at home, it’s hard to relax or feel present when you have so much “other stuff” to do. The other reason is that breathing fresh air increases oxygen to the brain and increases the level of serotonin. Go for brisk walk or a bike ride for half an hour and you dramatically increase the levels of endorphins (the feel-good hormones).
Vitamin D & Immunity
Studies show that between 15-20 minutes of sunlight exposure per day can allow your body to absorb vitamin D, which helps keep your bones and muscles healthy. There is also research going into the benefits of phytoncides, these are airborne chemicals that plants release. Scientists believe that breathing them in whilst we are out in nature can help us fight off infection and diseases. Sunlight also helped energise our T-cells, an essential component of the immune system. And we can’t ignore the benefits of mud! Playing in the dirt is a great way to help safe exposure to germs and build up the immune system. Exposure to environmental microbes can help protect against allergies and other inflammatory diseases.
Always remember Sun protection is recommended when the UV Index is 3 or above, or when spending extended periods of time outdoors.
We could all do with a better night’s sleep and with so much going on in the world right now, many of us are not getting enough quality shut eye. But spending time outdoors and paying attention to the sunset help improve our circadian rhythm which is our natural process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle Being outside helps when it comes to producing melatonin, a natural sleep hormone. It is not a coincidence that we go to bed earlier and wake up earlier when we are camping, we are literally getting back in tune with our natural sleep cycle and responding to the light and dark.
Can you improve your time in nature?
Absolutely, if you want to improve your time in nature and become more present and mindful when you’re being outdoors. Here is a couple of key things that you can do.
Intent – that’s right, it’s as simple as having the right intention when you go out, spending 5 to 10 minutes standing in your garden, breathing deeply, noticing the fresh air in your face, noticing the sounds and smells, taking a stretch and feeling grounded. These things are more beneficial to your mental health than spending half an hour walking around outside when you are worrying about the to-do lists or thinking about what you have to do when you get home or go back to work. It’s all in our intention by asking ourselves before we go out “are we going to be present?”. We’re going to be in the moment and therefore it’s not about getting from A to B, it really is about the journey; it’s about what you see and what you hear and opening your senses to the natural world around you.
We’ve created a mindfulness scavenger hunt here that focuses on connecting to nature using your senses for you to enjoy outdoors with your family.
Leave your phone at home or in your pocket. I know it’s hard and the temptation is always there when you see something beautiful to get out your phone and think, this will make a good Facebook or Instagram post. By doing this you’re not really being in the present moment.
Instead of reaching for your phone, really look at the what you see, noticing the colours and details. This help us imprint what we are seeing in our minds and actually helps our memory. The same applies when playing with our children. We want to capture everything on the phone that sometimes we forget to just watch and be in the moment with them.
We can’t truly connect through our phones and when we are disconnected in nature, we miss out on the wonderful opportunity to truly feel its presence, throughout our whole body. So next time to you go out leave your phone in your pocket and experience this beautiful world through your eyes with no other motive than to fill your cup and improve your wellbeing.
This article was written by bush playgroup facilitator and mindfulness coach, Hayley Black.
Don’t forget to check out our downloadable outdoor resources below for your next bush walk!