For Better Health, Head Outdoors

Want to ease stress and improve health? Start with a walk in the park.

Increasingly, evidence says that getting outside is good for our health and happiness. In Japan, researchers link “Forest
bathing” – engaging with the natural world for therapeutic benefit – to reduced blood pressure and heart rates, lower stress levels and an immune system boost that lasts from a few hours to a few days. British scientists connect contact with nature to better moods and self-esteem, while other studies maintain that outdoor exercise improves concentration, increases job satisfaction and enhances one’s sense of vitality more effectively than indoor activity.

In addition to elevating mental and physical health, nature also promotes healing. Hospital patients in several studies suffered
fewer complications, recovered more quickly and required fewer pain medications when windows provided access to natural
views and sunlight.

What accounts for these powerful health benefits? It could be our exposure to grass, trees and other plants while outdoors. One theory is that phytoncides, compounds produced by plants to prevent decay, might help lower blood pressure and raise white blood cell counts in humans. In addition, outdoor activity relaxes and refreshes the mind by providing a break from cell phones, computer screens and to-do lists. Just five minutes can make a difference, and even urban dwellers can incorporate nature into their days. Here’s how:

Plan a weekend hike, bike ride or beach trip

Take a walk over the lunch hour

Spend time in parks or community gardens

Set your desk near a window to provide an outdoor view

Keep a plant in your office

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