Even a small dose of nature each day—as little as five minutes—can benefit a person’s well-being. But if you find yourself spending much of your time inside, take heart. You have good reason to venture outside into nature, and it’s possible to make time in your week to do so. Learn more about the benefits of being in nature and how to spend more time in the great outdoors.
Focus on the benefits.
“When we walk in nature, even just a local park, the emotional changes are immediate,” says Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, an organization that helps people get into natural spaces through activities like walking and hiking. Mapp has noticed that after people spend time outdoors, they often use words like “gratitude,” “freedom,” “healing” and “connection” to express how they’re feeling.
Mapp says that dose of nature is a great way to connect to your authentic self. “The trees and flowers don’t care how much money you have, or about your gender or your race. Nature allows you to be free of the weight life presents.”
Susanne Preston-Josey, Ph.D., a clinical mental health counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach, says that when people are exposed to natural sunlight, the vitamin D made in their skin helps to elevate their mood. “Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self-esteem,” she says. Another plus? According to a University of Michigan study, walking outside can actually help boost short-term memory by up to 20 percent.
Fit it in.
Lack of time, according to Mapp, is the No. 1 reason people feel they can’t get outdoors. But you don’t need to take a long trek to reap the benefits. “You can get your nature swagger on in urban or wilderness areas,” she says, “and anything in between!” A stroll through city and local parks and playgrounds—or just around the neighborhood—offers relaxation and connection.
If you need motivation, create a buddy system with a group of like-minded people in your area, set up a walking date with a friend or move with purpose by signing up for the free Charity Miles app and earn money for your favorite causes while taking in the fresh air. If you live in a city or town where you can get around without wheels, run an errand and take a shortcut through the park on foot. Bring your dog for an unhurried walk and you’ll both get the best of it. Basically, squeeze in that outdoor time whenever and wherever you can.
Martin Niedermeier, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, has led studies that demonstrate the psychological benefits of walking in nature. He suggests that people integrate short outdoor walks into their everyday lives, such as right before getting into the office, during lunch breaks or after dinner. “This time is not wasted,” says Niedermeier. “It’s being invested in a more productive time afterward.”
Find the support you need.
Want a walking buddy? Try sites and apps like Meetup.com, GirlTrek.org, FitMatch and Bvddy to find a physically active community. If you haven’t worn your fitness tracker for a while, put it back on to get those motivational messages. If you need to find a little oasis of green near you, go to your local state and city websites, or find your location on onlyinyourstate.com or curbed.com and search for “secret garden.”