We always say, 'It feels so good to be outdoors'. But when it comes to it, what research is out there to show that this is true. With all the status of the current measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 it's still important to social distance and limit the time we spend out and about. But, where possible we're all getting outside and making the most of our a walk in the park, or sitting in the garden. We're sure you are too!
This got us all thinking, what are the true health benefits of making time to enjoy the great outdoors, whether it's perched on your patio, strolling through the countryside with your furry companion or going for a blast on the bicycle doen the local bridleways or country lanes. Read on to find out what information we found to explain the science behing feeling good when you're going outdoors, after all a wide range of health benefits can be associated with spending time outdoors, with people who spend more time outdoors showing both increased physical and mental health (Brymer, Cuddihy and Sharma- Brymer, 2010) & (Adevi & Mårtensson, 2013; Thompson et al., 2012).
Emotional state and location outdoors
The calming effect spending time in nature has on us has been experimentally quantified time and time again in various studies. One example showed improved attention, emotional state, and lowered blood pressure as a result of walking in a natural setting VS an urban walk (Hartig et al. 2003). In addition to this, another study similarly found people who walk outdoors are happier and had greater emotional well-being than those walking indoors, despite initial predictions of the study (Nisbet and Zelenski, 2011; Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009.
Not only this, being in your garden could even lower your stress (Cole & Hall, 2010), something we've all had chance to experience recently. Even half an hour of gardening (when compared with reading indoors) was shown to be significantly superior in reducing the salivary cortisol levels, which are a key indicator of a person's psychological stress level(Van Den Berg and Custers, 2010). Although perhaps not surprising to the frequent gardener, who report that gardening helps them to recover and relax from the hassles of everyday life (Gatrell, & Bingley, 2004), this piece of empirical evidence could be key in encouraging more people to go outside, and take up hobbies such as gardening. Here, one would naturally ask: is it being outdoors or the exercise of gardening having this impact?
A very prominent study conducted by the University of Exeter and Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found that when participants performed the same exercises indoors VS outdoors, the outdoor participants reported greater mental wellbeing, satisfaction and positive engagement (Thompson Coon et al., 2011). The study shwows that it is the impact of being outdoors and amongst nature that is having the positive impact on people’s mental health not just the effect excercise can have whilst being outside.
Why do we see these results outdoors?
How can all this be possible? One theory stems from the fact that spending time outside is found to increase peoples connectedness to nature (Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009). Another interesting theory, called the ‘Stress Reduction Theory’ is that elements associated with nature (water, plants, expansive views etc) that would have once contributed to survival of our ancestors, now trigger a subconscious bodily response characterised by the above-mentioned measures (Ulrich et al., 1991)
Additionally, we see recent epidemiological studies have shown lower morbidity and mortality, particularly for diseases linked with stress in populations living in ‘green environments’ (Maas et al., 2009; Mitchell & Popham, 2008) One could conclude that one key to living longer and healthier lives, is placing more emphasis on the time we spend outdoors.
The role of natural light
We are hearing more and more about how ‘blue light’ from our phone and laptop screens may be interfering with sleep patterns - could this be another key to why spending time in nature has so many positive benefits?
There is very little research on the strength or duration of light needed to keep humans circadian clock in rhythm, probably due to the difficulty of confining humans to laboratory like conditions for weeks at a time (Cauter et al., 1994). Our biological clock is primarily responsible for secretion of melatonin, that begins two hours before bed time and ceases close to our habitual wake times (Benloucif et al., 2005).
Whilst the focus is commonly on when you are and are not exposed to light, it is key to also consider the relative intensity of the light you are exposed to. Consistently low level lighting, such as that found indoors (usually below 500 lux) can have a significant circadian effect (Duffy and Wright, 2005). Now, non-surprisingly, the degree of light exposure has been strongly linked to mental health, with seasonal changes in mood a commonly reported problem (most notably Seasonal Affective Disorder.) Less severe symptoms (sleep difficulties, fatigue, depressed mood) are often reported by people working indoors- leading to a coining of the term ‘ill-lighting syndrome’ (Begemann, Beld and Tenner, 1996). This would all suggest to us that by increasing the time spent exposed to natural light, especially in the colder darker months, would prove very beneficial to our mental health.
How can we directly benefit from being outdoors?
This kind of statistical significance we've found in itself should encourage us to spend more time in our gardens, and the good news is seasonal changes have been shown to have no effect on the associated mood boost (Brooks, Ottley, Arbuthnott and Sevigny, 2017). If anything, when we consider the potential effect of lower intensity or duration of lighting during the winter months, it is perhaps even more pressing that we start spending time outdoors not only when it’s sunny and warm. The potential mental health benefits found from spending time outside can be made to last all year long and can be found, very simply, in your garden.
For more information about the science being outdoors, click on the links in this article. For more information about Heat Outdoors products which can help you enjoy your outdoor space, visit the product pages via the main menu above. Or why not contact us directly to for more information, we're always happy to give helpful advice for you needs.
Adv Occup Ergon Saf, 2 (1996), pp. 192-198
Bird, W., 2004. Natural Fit. Can green space and biodiversity increase levels of physical activity? Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; s.l.
Brymer, E., Cuddihy, T. F., & Sharma-Brymer, V. (2010). The role of nature-based experiences in the development and maintenance of wellness. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 1, 21- 27. doi:10.1080/18377122.2010.9730328
Cole, D. and Hall, T., 2010. Experiencing the Restorative Components of Wilderness Environments: Does Congestion Interfere and Does Length of Exposure Matter?. Environment and Behavior, 42(6), pp.806-823.
Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J. and Depledge, M., 2011. Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(5), pp.1761-1772.