The Great Outdoors

July 09 2017 | by

WRITING in the 19th century, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard intuitively knew what science in the 21st century is discovering, namely, that spending time in nature brings increased levels of health, healing, harmony and happiness. Here’s how he wrote about this: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well being, and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Besides, it is in the natural world where a person can feel, powerfully, the presence of God. That may be why Jesus did the majority of his teaching in the outdoors. A survey of the four gospels shows that two thirds of the time Jesus taught in the presence of nature – Matthew, 70 percent outdoors; Luke, 60 percent; Mark 73 percent; John 60 percent; and the average for all four gospels is 67 percent. In order to remain physically and spiritually fit, more activity should be done outside.

The July and August months are the time when most of us enjoy our summer holidays, but can a summer vacation be countenanced without thinking of outdoor environments like bright sandy or rocky beaches, blue or emerald-green clear waters, lively outdoor evening parties, lush forests or sparkling fresh mountain air? Here are ten great reasons to ‘take it outside’ and exercise in the beauty of nature.


Immense benefits


After systematically analyzing a wide variety of existing studies on 833 adults, researchers at the British Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry came to this conclusion: compared to indoor exercise, physical activities done in natural environments produced “greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and positive engagement” as well as “decreases in tensions, confusion, anger and depression.” Furthermore, participants reported not only greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor exercise, but indicated they would be more likely to repeat the activity.


Immediate gains


Recently researchers explored the question: how much green exercise produces the greatest improvement in mood and sense of personal well being? Here’s the very good news for people who are busy and crunched for time: a mere five minutes of outdoor exercise benefits mental health. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton, researchers at the University of Essex, analyzed ten studies done on 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health conditions. The studies showed that physical activity in nature led to mental and physical health improvements in as little as five minutes. Activities analyzed included walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, and horse riding. Interestingly the greatest health changes took place in the young and the mentally ill, but people of all ages and social groups were helped. All natural environments were beneficial, including parks in highly urban centers. Outdoor areas with water added additional benefits. Petty and Barton concluded that abundant scientific evidence shows that activity in natural areas decreases the risk of mental illness and improves the sense of well-being.


Beautiful scenery


Actor Tom Selleck says, “Sweating outdoors sure beats sitting on a stationary bike staring at my navel.” Rather than glare at a television screen or look at the same, tired walls and ceilings, outside exercise brings to your vision the bright sun, a brilliant blue sky, soft clouds, rainbows, tress, grass, birds, butterflies, squirrels and a variety of other distinctive creatures. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous,” noted Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher and scientist (384-322 BC).


Improved eye health


Spending more time outdoors can lead to better eye health and vision. Approximately 30 percent of people suffer from myopia, also known as nearsightedness, a condition where objects in the distance are blurry. The popular explanation for this disorder is too much ‘close work’ such as staring at computer screens and smart phones. However, the cause may be too much time indoors. In China, where myopia rates are very high, a team of researchers conducted a study which showed that children who spent more time outdoors had lower risk of myopia. They worked with 12 schools over three years, which included 1,900 first grade students aged 6 and 7. Half the school assigned their first-graders to an extra period of outside recess for every day of the school year. The half did not. The outdoor group had a nearly 10 percent lower incidence of myopia.


Brain activation


Happiness gets triggered in the brain. Something as simple as merely looking out into nature activates parts of the brain associated with happiness and balance. That’s according to a study done at South Korea’s Chonnam National University. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans showed that people who saw images of mountains, forests and other landscapes experienced heightened activity in these two parts of the brain – the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is connected to positive outlook and emotional stability, and the basal ganglia, an area tied to the recollection of happy memories.


Improved air


A study done on fitness across Portugal and Holland, which measured levels of commonly found indoor pollutants, discovered that they contained high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide, especially during evening aerobics type classes when many people were packed inside small spaces. Researchers warned that these pollutants can potentially lead to asthma and other respiratory problems over time, and that the high levels of carbon dioxide may contribute to bodily fatigue and cognitive sluggishness. These dangers increase in fitness centers because people breathe heavier while doing their exercises, pulling the pollutants deeper into the lungs.


Wards off cancer


Cancer fighting cells become energized when outdoors. The Japanese are so fond of outdoor activity that they have a phrase called “forest bathing.” They intuitively know that being outside near trees brings healing to the body. Now, researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School have produced evidence verifying that wisdom. In one study, women who spent two to four hours in the woods on two consecutive days experienced a nearly 50 percent increase in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells.


Good vibrations


More positive thoughts and emotions emerge when outside. A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, revealed that people who walked on an outdoor track moved at a faster pace, but perceived they put out less effort and experienced more positive emotions than did those who walked on an indoor treadmill. Also, positivity increased for outdoor exercisers in rural settings than for city dwellers who walked outdoors. For example, a study done in Scotland showed that people who walked through a rural area viewed their to-do lists as more manageable than those who walked on city streets.


More vitamin D


Rather than take a daily supplement for Vitamin D, research reveals that as little as 30 minutes in the sunlight can deliver nearly a day’s supply of vitamin D through skin absorption according to an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives Journal. Vitamin D in the body contributes to bone health, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis and osteomalacia. In addition Vitamin D is believed to lower the risk of other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Furthermore, the UV radiation which comes from sunlight on a daily basis can help reduce an overactive immune system for people with auto immune conditions such as lupus and psoriasis.


Less depression


The next time you’re feeling down don’t go to a shopping center, simply get outside. A study done in the United Kingdom compared the mental state of depressed people who took a walk in a park outdoors and a walk inside a shopping center. 71 percent of those who walked in the park reported that their levels of depression decreased compared to only 45 percent of the group who walked inside a shopping center. In addition, 22 percent of the group who walked inside a mall reported their depression levels actually increased. The same study also revealed that 71 percent of the participants who walked in the park reported feeling less tense, while only 50 percent of mall walkers felt that way. Finally, an enormous 90 percent of park walkers noted an increase of self-esteem compared to only 44 percent of participants who walked in the shopping center.




As more and more evidence emerges, it seems clear that human beings are wired to benefit from nature, and nature responds. This was something observed by scientist and writer John Lubbock, who said, “All those who love Nature, she loves in return, and will richly reward, not perhaps with the good things, as they are commonly called, but with the best things of this world, not with money and titles, horses and carriages, but with bright and happy thoughts, contentment and peace of mind.”

Updated on July 09 2017