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Why the great outdoors is great for your health

Fresh air, sun, trees. Nature is a magical thing, and according to some studies, can have strong health benefits.

Hiking and exploring in the great outdoors has had a surge in popularity. According to the Office for National Statistics, people in Britain have taken to green spaces during lockdown to reconnect with nature, as both outdoor exercise and visits to parks have significantly increased [1].

Whether you’re already reaping the rewards of connecting with nature, or you’re looking for help to get out the door and into the great outdoors, we’ve put together the top reasons why the great outdoors is great for your health.

Time away from screens

With our work, education and socialisation now taking place largely online, many people say they use phone time to ‘unwind’. So, it’s pretty rare if we get chance to look up from our screens these days. Over one quarter (26%) of 16-25-year-olds currently say they are ‘not happy’ with the amount of time they spend online, and another report shows that Millennials only relax for an average of seven hours-a-week because they are wrapped up in their phones [2].

What is more alarming is that nine in 10 Millennials confess to opening their phone, even though they know they haven’t had any messages, just to look at the screen [2]! It’s not only Millennials who do this, as I’m sure many of us can confess to doing the same thing, but surely there are better things for us to look at?

The truth is that being out in an exciting new environment takes our attention away from the endless notifications, messages and alerts which can make us feel constantly alert. You could even gain a new sense of feeling present, peaceful and serene - all beneficial for our mental health.

A final bonus is that you can’t, or shouldn’t, scroll through Facebook or Twitter whilst you are clambering up the side of a mountain, can you? (If you do, we strongly recommend you watch where you are going!).

Exercising your body

Many adults in the UK spend around nine hours a day sitting [3]. One thing we can be sure of is that a prolonged amount of time being sedentary is not beneficial for our physical or mental health. In fact, studies have linked being inactive with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer [3]. Do you need any more reason to move your body regularly?

The positive thing is that exercise such as brisk walking and hiking up hills outdoors can strengthen your bones, joints, and muscles at the same time as burning off excess calories [4]. But how do you know if you’re walking fast enough to gain the health benefits? The NHS recommends that you’re walking briskly if you can still talk but cannot sing the words to a song [4].

What’s more, one study has found that exercising in nature (also known as green exercise) has additional benefits to exercising in the gym, such as huge benefits to mood [5].

If walking in the great outdoors is something for you, head to Ramblers who organise group walks for all abilities. You can also search for local mapped routes close by to your location to inspire you to explore new footpaths and areas of countryside.

Gain the benefits of nature

Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese practice (translated as Shinrin-yoku). In Japan, people claim it can help recovery from stress and alleviate the effects of reduced attention resulting from work-induced tiredness [6].

But what is forest bathing? And is there any truth in this? Well, forest bathing doesn’t involve taking a dip in a bathtub full of leaves and twigs! What it does involve is immersing yourself in a forest environment whilst practicing breathing methods, yoga and relaxation techniques.

One study has found a single session of only two hours of forest bathing can lead to improvements in physiological and psychological health in people of working age [7].

But the benefits don’t end there. One large study found a relationship between time spent in green spaces and reductions in blood pressure, reductions in salivary cortisol (the stress hormone) and improvements to heart rate [7]. Another study supported these findings and also found a significant reduction in cortisol from regular forest bathing [8] suggesting these findings are not a simple fluke. The best thing about forest bathing? You don’t need any kind of special equipment or techniques. It’s just you and a forest.

A chance to socialise

Hiking in the great outdoors is an excellent hobby to share with friends. It gives you a chance to connect with real people face-to-face. And of course, an added advantage is that you have another brain to help navigate you for the times you get a little lost on route! Nothing beats a good chin-wag with your good friends as you embrace the open air and explore new surroundings.

If you don’t have any friends that love the outdoors as much as you do, why not explore the platform MeetUp, it’s a way to meet people that share common interests as you and who knows, perhaps you’ll meet somebody who knows the best and most scenic routes out there to explore.

Conclusion

So, do you really need any more convincing that being active in the great outdoors can benefit our health? The great outdoors can stimulate our mind, strengthen our physical health and allows us to completely switch off from our hectic lifestyles.

Now you have even more reasons as to why an alfresco picnic should be on the menu for the weekend! You can bring the fizz.

If you’re interested in physical and mental wellbeing and tracking improvements to your health over time, Medichecks has a number of beneficial tests for you. You could try our Health and Lifestyle Blood Test which is a simple, finger-prick blood test that you can do at home. It measures your liver, kidney and cholesterol status along with a number of other essential biomarkers.

For the most athletic, you may be interested in our Fitness Blood Test which is a great way to measure your fitness starting point (your baseline) and track improvements as your body fitness improves. _________________________________________________________________________

References

1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/27/covid-crisis-fuels-rise-in-uk-outdoor-activity-but-home-workers-benefit-most

2. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/1183431/millennials-relax-phone-notifications

3. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/why-sitting-too-much-is-bad-for-us/

4. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/walking-for-health/

5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-prescription-for-better-health-go-alfresco

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6589172/

7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118303323

8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00484-019-01717-x