Kevin Lutz, MD, FACP
Jun 1 2018

Medicus curat, natura sanat—the doctor treats, nature heals.

Summer time is approaching and with warmer weather, the time when the outdoors calls to us.

Active LifestyleBrain HealthExerciseMen’s HealthWomen’s Health

Medicus curat, natura sanat—the doctor treats, nature heals.

Summer time is approaching and with warmer weather, the time when the outdoors calls to us. We go hiking, fishing, biking and have picnics and barbecues. However, these fun outdoor activities are really an exception to the rule. A government study found that Americans spent more than 90% of their time indoors. Here’s the thing though: spending time in nature is not just a “nice time”, it’s actually really important for optimal health. It can also modify the way your brain works, in positive ways.

Five reasons that can add some motivation to go outside.

  1. Being outside reduces stress. The sounds of nature transform your nervous system into a relaxed state. In 2010, the Researchers at the University of Essex in England reported results from a meta-analysis of their own studies that showed just five minutes of outdoor exposure and exercise resulted in improvements in self-esteem and mood.
  2. Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity. A recent study showed that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group of people waiting to take the same hike. It concluded that disconnecting from media and electronic devices can increase creative problem solving by 50%!
  3. Vitamin D levels will go up. Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because when sunlight hits the skin, it begins the process that leads to the production of the biologically active form of the vitamin. Vitamin D, which we know helps build strong bones, can also possibly contribute to a healthy immune system. Natural light has also been linked to less pain and improved sleep, especially in aging populations.
  4. Nature reduces the risk for depression. People who have regular access to nature are less likely to be on anti-depressants. Being outdoors gives us energy, makes us happier, helps us to relieve the everyday stresses of our overscheduled lives and helps us to be kind to others.
  5. You will get more exercise. There’s no question that indoor living is associated with being sedentary, while being outdoors is associated with activity. If you make getting outside a goal, that will mean less time in front of the television and computer and more time walking, biking, gardening, cleaning up the yard, and doing other things that put the body in motion.

How to get more nature in your life?

If you have 3 minutes:

  • Get your feet on the grass, even just for a few minutes.
  • If you’re walking into work, take just a few minutes to smell a flower on your way.

If you have 30 minutes:

  • Go for a walk. It will give you a little bit more movement in your day, and it can clear your head.
  • Not up for a walk? Try taking your lunch to the nearest park bench and get some fresh air!

If you have 3 hours:

  • Have a picnic. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just grab some healthy food and go find the nearest tree.
  • Go exploring. You never know what you might find when you get off the beaten path. Take this as a chance to play in nature.
  • Spend the afternoon in a hammock. A couple of trees, a book, a bottle of water, and a light breeze…sounds like the recipe for a picture-perfect afternoon!