We have become an indoor generation. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Americans spend a little as 7% of their life outside. That means that we are either inside our homes or cars 93% of time. It’s a staggering statistic showing that we are just moving from one enclosed area to another throughout our lifetime and it’s not good news for our health.
Effects of Being Indoors
Spending so much time inside is unhealthy for the mind, body, and spirit. One reason is due to the high concentration of pollutants found in our homes when the windows and doors are constantly closed, with levels reaching 2 to 5 times higher than the outside. This poor air quality, with its excessive humidity and mold, exacerbates medical conditions such as allergies, asthma, and other breathing issues.
Spending life indoors increases feelings of isolation and loneliness, leading to a multitude of mental and physical medical concerns that range from suicide, early death, to long-term diseases. As a nation, we are the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world, and prescription antidepressants have significantly risen. Childhood and adult obesity continue to skyrocket, partially from moving less and being inside. A life lived indoors keeps us separated from nature, making us more vulnerable to negative moods and reducing our attention spans. Finally, higher crime rates are seen in cities with limited or no access to green space and parks.
Effects of Being Outdoors
Let’s flip this story and discuss the positives that result from spending time in nature: getting outside to hear the birds sing and watch the clouds float by. Physical, emotional, and mental health are positively affected from exposure to natural environments. Lowered blood pressure, depression, and cholesterol levels are experienced as bodies begin to relax.
Children who spend a lot of time in nature perform better in school, are less hyperactive, have more friends, and experience longer and healthier lifespans. Physicians have even begun to “prescribe” time in nature to those suffering from ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
Additional benefits of nature time include:
• Enhanced short-term memory and creativity • Reduced heart rates and cortisol levels (a hormone used to assess stress) • Overall inflammation levels lowered • Improved positive emotions and attitudes • Clarity and focus increased • Mental fatigue decreased • Anti-cancer proteins stimulated in nature, according to preliminary studies.
Tips to Add More Nature into Your Life
In the quest to bring more wellness into your life, here are some suggestions for renewing your health through nature, whether this is at home or in your travels.
When at Home/Work:
• Open the windows to air out pollutants as often as possible • Go outside several times a day. Yes, even when it’s cold or rainy • Take your lunch break outdoors. Even better? Making it a walking lunch with a co-worker • Add in a few plants to your home and office space to keep the air clean • Get your exercise on outdoors. Consider a new sport or join a biking group • If you cannot find time to be outside, take a peek at nature through a window. Consider moving your desk for a better view of the outside.
Another easy tip is to add in grounding for additional health benefits. This involves walking barefoot on the grass/ground for 10 to 60 minutes. The idea behind this is that we are meant to connect with the earth on a regular basis. On the scientific side, grounding (aka earthing) returns your body to a neutral state from the earth’s negative charge. While on the medical side, the benefits are very similar to being outside in nature, from a reduction in inflammation to enhanced sleep.
• Seek out vacations/locations that will inspire you to be outdoors, whether that be a beach, mountain range, or glaciers • Find time to be outside each day, even if it’s just to look around for a few minutes • Locate the closest national/local park and visit for a least a half-day. We highly recommend Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Tetons! • Sign up for outdoor travel activities, like kayaking or yoga • Take your daily fitness routine outdoors.
For me, I’ve learned a deep appreciation of nature across my travels. Time slows down when I focus on the beauty before my eyes. I come alive and feel healthier while breathing in the fresh pine as I walk in the forest. All my problems become small in reference. My body craves nature when my energy is low and mind is scattered.
Now that you see it’s healthier to be outdoors versus indoors, think through how you can add in more experiences around this. Throw open those doors, and head outside!