Practicing mindfulness outdoors can have a big impact on your health in ways that seated meditation may not. Daily practice has been shown to improve everything from sleep and relationships to job performance. Here, we lay out how practicing in the great outdoors benefits both mind and body.
Lift your mood & reduce stress
Spending time outdoors has been shown to improve well-being, and is a simple way to kick start a happy mood. Glasgow University conducted a study that found that regular exercise outdoors could cut the risk of suffering from poor mental health by half, as well as have positive effects on biomarkers that monitor stress, mood and energy levels.
A public health report from Ecopsychology conducted by the University of Michigan, with partners from De Montfort University, James Hutton Institute, and Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom, found that walks in nature were linked with significantly lower rates of depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. In this large scale study, people who had recently experienced traumatic life events such as serious illness, death, divorce or unemployment, especially benefited from group walks outdoors.
Boost your immune system
A remedy for staving off colds could be as simple as spending time outdoors on weekends, which can have lasting effects on your immune system throughout the work week. Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School conducted a study that indicated that women who spent six hours over two days in nature experienced an increase in virus- and cancer-fighting white blood cells. What’s even more impressive, is that the immune boost lasted for seven days after being in nature.
Lower blood pressure
A study from The Royal Society for Public Health uncovered that exercising in green wooded areas, or simply sitting and looking at trees reduced blood pressure as well as other stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Amazingly, looking at pictures of trees had a similar, but less dramatic, effect.
All the stimulation from screens and the stressors of life are taxing on our ability to focus and maintain clarity. A study published in Psychological Science (pdf) unearthed that situating yourself in nature can be a very restorative experience and may positively affect your concentration and mental clarity. The study found improved cognitive function in participants who spent time in nature over those who conducted the same activities in an urban setting.
Strengthen body awareness
Active movement establishes a strong mind-body connection, and being in nature instills a great sense of mindful awareness. When surrounded by nature, the senses are enhanced and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot or the physical sensation of the breath entering and exiting the lungs becomes a sharper, more readily observed experience. Urban environments are saturated with stimuli that demand our attention, taking our focus away from our own physical presence. In a natural setting, our bodies and minds can relax, and we become more aware of our own presence, posture, gait and balance.
Exposure to natural sunlight increases the quality of sleep by setting the body's circadian rhythm—biological clock—and stabilizing hormone function throughout the day. Getting a 30-minute dose of natural sunlight during midday is enough to trigger the group of suprachiasmatic nuclei cells in the brain that regulate and maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
How to practice mindfulness outdoors
Set aside time each day, ideally over your lunch hour, to get outdoors and immerse yourself in nature. Take up gardening or other outdoor activities that you find enjoyable. A quick internet search should provide a list of local trails or walkways for you to explore. Your exercise could be as simple as walking, or could include more vigorous exercise like hiking, jogging, cycling or kayaking. When in doubt, visit your local park, enjoy your own backyard as much as possible and commit to a daily practice, rain or shine. Making time for nature a priority will have a lasting impact on your health and well-being.
Fake it 'til you make it
We aren’t all able to get a healthy dose of the outdoors in our busy and hectic lives, but plenty of evidence indicates that simply looking at pictures of trees, natural landscapes and the outdoors can have the same (although less potent) health benefits. Our recommendation? Change your screensaver to a beautiful scenic landscape and hang plenty pictures of nature in your line of vision when working indoors.