Research has shown there are many benefits of being in natural surrounds. Here are 101 ways to spend more time in nature + a FREE PRINTABLE.
Countless studies have shown that spending time in nature benefits our physical and mental well-being.
In his book, ‘The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in the Digital Age’, Richard Louv refers to these benefits as ‘Vitamin N’.
(Just to clarify, ‘vitamin N’ is a metaphor, not an actual vitamin.)
Louv coins the term ‘vitamin N’ (for nature) to emphasise that spending time in the great outdoors or communing with our natural habitat in some way each day is as essential for our health and well-being as actual vitamins.
Even though we’re at our best in green and blue spaces, many of us spend most of our lives inside and often in front of screens (myself included). And when we do get out, it’s to commute to the office, the gym, the shops, and other indoor spaces.
An additional hurdle to enjoying all the benefits nature endows is living in a city surrounded by concrete and steel. In an urban environment, it’s harder to encounter incidental nature, and therefore important to be intentional about getting your daily dose of ‘vitamin N’.
This article shares the benefits of nature to our well-being, ideas for getting outside, and a free printable list.
The Benefits of Nature Exposure
Research on nature has revealed many benefits to spending time in the great outdoors, but no one is sure why spending time outside in nature is restorative.
Is it because of less pollution? Or is it because we’re getting vitamin D? Is it less of a sensory overload? Or is it exposure to light and expansive views? Is it the natural scents? Is it because we pay attention more broadly and in a less effortful way?
Or is it all of these things combined?
While we may still need to learn how it works, a growing consensus is that getting outdoors is good for our health and well-being.
On the other hand (and to give a balanced view), a review paper notes the bias of these studies, arguing that most have been done on ‘rich, white, western populations,’ so it is yet unknown whether these findings apply across the entire population.
Nature and Physical Health and Fitness
Spending time outdoors can increase physical fitness if you’re doing active outdoor activities like hiking or paddleboarding (not so much if, like me, your idea of a good time is reading a book in the garden with a cup of tea).
A natural benefit of spending more time outdoors is sun exposure, increasing vitamin D. While it’s a balancing act between getting too much sun exposure and not enough, many of us tend to be deficient due to our indoor lifestyle.
Apart from increased physical activity, studies show time in nature possibly improves immune system function (2021), improves sleep quality (2022), improves blood pressure (2022), and may reduce the risk of a range of other health problems such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, and premature death (2018).
Nature and Mental Health
Exposure to nature may enhance mood and increase positive emotions (2008), ‘buffer’ the effects of loneliness (2018), reduces stress, depression and anxiety (2020, 2021, 2021), and improves stress recovery (2013).
Nature and Cognitive Health
There’s a Latin saying, ‘Solvitur Ambulando,’ which means ‘it is solved by walking.’
Many of the most famous creatives in history (Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Immanuel Kant, Beethoven and many more) espoused the benefits of a good walk through the woods.
Nature is said to calm and focus the mind, promote clearer thinking, and enhance creativity.
And studies (2014, 2019) support this. They show that spending time in greenspace improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control and boosts creative ideation while walking and when you get home.
Miscellaneous Benefits of Nature
In his book, ‘The Nature Principle‘, Louv describes several other nature benefits, which he backs up with studies in his book.
He argues that being outdoors:
- Expands our perception by engaging all senses
- Encourages and facilitates relationships (people bond and communicate better in nature)
- It gives a stronger sense of spirituality, self, and connectedness
- Encourages eco-awareness and the preservation of natural spaces
A further benefit that I would add, which is not supported by any research, but something I suspect is true nonetheless, is spending time outdoors saves you money.
You’re not buying or being tempted by stuff when looking for crabs in rockpools, having a picnic at the park, or hiking in the bush.
How Much Nature Time Do You Need to Get the Benefits?
You need to spend less time outside than you might think to reap the benefits. A 2019 study found spending just 120 minutes a week in nature (direct exposure rather than viewing it out of a window) is associated with good health and well-being.
That’s fewer than twenty minutes a day.
That 120 minutes can happen all on the weekend, or it can be spaced throughout the week. Positive association peaked at around 300 minutes with no gain afterwards, so if you’re a screen junkie, you don’t have to completely overhaul your lifestyle to benefit from the wonders of ‘Vitamin N.’
Maximising the Benefits
Here are a few tips to get the most out of the outdoors.
Come prepared with sunscreen, a hat, mozzie spray, a raincoat, or a winter jacket and beanie in the winter months. The other day I worked outside under a tree and got attacked by mosquitoes, which made the whole thing unpleasant.
Choose a place you feel safe to be in. It’s hard to relax if you don’t feel safe from other humans or wildlife (like snakes).
Be present and take notice. We miss so much when we walk around inside our worries and thoughts or when looking at a phone rather than our surroundings. Being present, feeling the sun on your face, the breeze, watching the birds, the ants, the trees sway, the waves break, and taking deep, relaxing breaths will enhance nature’s benefits.
Ideas for Spending More Time in Nature
Our busy, modern, urban lifestyle means it can be hard to spend time outdoors. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some ideas.
Get out of the House
Visit local parks, national parks, walking trails, the beach, the river, patches of bush or state forest, picnic grounds, farms open to the public, pick-your-own farms, and empty lots. Go forest bathing. Walk on the nature strip (verge). Eat lunch away from the office (preferably on grass and under a tree). Visit open gardens. Star gaze. Eat a dawn breakfast on the beach or an evening dinner at the park. Look for nocturnal creatures in trees along the street. Jump in puddles. Stand in the rain. Build snowmen. Kick autumn leaves. Forage. Hike. Fish. Go camping. Take a drive in the mountains. Go on a bike ride. Go to an outdoor cinema. Visit the farmer’s markets. Enjoy outdoor festivals. Play backyard cricket. Kick a ball around the local oval. Do inside things outside: read under a tree, shell peas on the back porch, and take your work outside.
Deepen Your Knowledge of Nature
Use your local library, internet or app to learn about the plants, animals, and insects that make up your local ecosystem. Go on guided walks, join groups, take workshops, or watch a documentary. Explore bush tucker. Create your own nature guides. Birdwatch. Start a plant journal. Smell the flowers. Sketch. Take notice. Join the Scouts.
Bring Nature to You
Start a garden focusing on natives that will encourage insects, thus bringing wildlife into your garden. Grow your own food. Use natural materials (wood, stone, wool, cotton, etc.) when building or decorating your home. Grow indoor plants. Open the doors and windows. Dig in the mud. Build a fairy garden. Install a bird bath. Meditate or do some yoga in the backyard. Watch the birds on the clothesline. Feed the birds. Start a worm farm. Get a pet. Read in the sun. Celebrate the solstices. Feel the breeze on your face. Take notice of where you are.
Join a conservation group, or plant a tree. Help eradicate known weeds from your local area. Pick up rubbish. Do Clean Up Australia Day.
Free Printable – Ideas for Spending More Time Outdoors
As with our holiday activity list, I like to have a go-to list stuck inside the pantry with ideas at the read when we need inspiration. So I’ve created a ‘get into nature’ list that I’m sharing below. It’s in printable PDF format, which you can download by clicking here or the image below.
If you’re interested in this topic, you might also like the book: ‘Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality’ by Eva M. Selhub, MD and Alan C. Logan, ND.
Our natural world is shrinking as our urban landscape spreads. Appreciating nature, in fact, just noticing it, is the first step towards conserving our natural environment or creating (re-generating) new ones. The benefit is mutual – both to ourselves and the eco-system at large.