Walking or doing sports outdoors has a huge impact on our mood, as well as our mental and physical well-being. If you don’t believe us, bring your children to a meadow, perhaps equipped with a ball or a kite! Give them a bicycle to ride or a notebook to draw — whatever fascinates them most. You will quickly realize how powerful the sunshine and light are, because nature can have positive effects on their body and mind (and yours too!).
Many scientific studies have investigated the effects that nature has on us, and the results are very encouraging and interesting. We have collected a few of them that you can experience by getting out of the house and spending a little more time outdoors, even with small children.
Time outdoors: more physical and mental energy
When it comes to our bodies, it is very difficult to try to separate the mind from the body. In fact, some of the positive effects that the environment can have on our bodies affect us as a whole.
Studies conducted by universities in Kansas and Utah have highlighted how prolonged contact with nature and natural environments can help us to:
- Improve mood and muscle tone.
- Raise our attention threshold and increase our ability to concentrate. With your children, try to do some bird watching, find mushrooms, or recognize wild strawberries. These activities will be a real treasure hunt for them (and they will discover that each season produces its own specific fruits).
- Restore physical and mental energy.
Nature stimulates the immune system
Do you or your children often get a cold, a sore throat or a general feeling of exhaustion? Perhaps your immune system needs to be invigorated! Research has shown that being in contact with natural environments increases the resistance of our immune systems.
According to one of these studies certain molecules produced by trees and plants have beneficial effects on the body when breathed in. So, even simply taking a ‘breath of air’ in a forest is something that can have an immediate beneficial effect on our bodies. In addition, trees seem to have the ability to reduce heart rates and blood pressure, decreasing the production of stress hormones (but more on this in the second part of the article, dedicated to the blessed effects that natural environments have on the psyche and mood).
Being outdoors improves our fitness (in a special way!)
As already mentioned, we are made up of body and mind. Even a simple 60-minute walk in the woods can help burn calories, but some might argue that the same applies to a walk in the city. From a certain point of view, yes, walking (or any other kind of physical activity) is good for the body. But what happens when we are in nature is different. The vitality and well-being that natural environments bring to our bodies is unique. It has been proven but it is also easy to test for yourself! All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and a beach, a lake, a meadow, a grove…
Let’s live nature and respect it
Whatever outdoor activity we decide to do, let’s remember that nature deserves all our respect. Because it is our friend and, as we have explained, it is very good for our bodies. Plus, if we respect the environment and its animals, other people will be able to enjoy and benefit from them after us.
For this reason, remember to talk to your children about what they see, to stimulate their curiosity and increase their love for animals, plants and the precious resources around us.
At the end of the walk, when you get home, you can also play one of our games to teach children about environmentally friendly behaviours, the importance of certain endangered animals, respect for water resources, and much more!
Nature reduces stress
Being in contact with nature helps us to reduce stress levels. Walking (or exercising) outdoors reduces anxiety levels, which in turn reduces stress. Part of this benefit also comes from the substances our bodies release during physical activity, which have a positive effect on our mood and self-perception.
Being outdoors makes you more cheerful and less gloomy
Being in contact with nature helps us reduce the so-called ‘negative thoughts’.
Studies show that during a walk in the mountains or a run on the beach, our thinking changes. Negative feelings and darker thoughts disappear, making space for positive emotions.
Additionally, being in contact with nature can also help to reduce the ‘rumination of thoughts’, which increases depression. This makes the environment a truly formidable ally for our moods!
Nature – a remedy for digital problems
If you are reading this article, it is probably because you are in front of a monitor (computer, tablet or smartphone). Increasingly often, we all find ourselves spending a lot (probably too much) time in contact with technology. This leads to information overload, which in the long run can cause stress, depression, and lack of concentration.
It seems that time spent outdoors has the power to counteract the negative effects of a hyper-connected and hyper-stimulated life, allowing us to get back in touch with ourselves.
The environment frees us from information overload
A notification, a news item, a like, another piece of news, a ring, a message… Never before have we been bombarded with as much information as we are today.
Often, all this information reaches us in far greater quantities than our brains can handle without deteriorating. The result is stress, agitation, problems with memory and concentration.
Fresh air, plants, water sources and the feeling of sand under our toes are a real cure-all for the problems that technology can bring: they bring us into contact with slower rhythms and physical sensations closer to what we actually are: living beings who are deeply connected to the world in which they live.
Being in nature makes us more creative
Perhaps the most interesting implication is that of creativity: being in the open air not only detoxifies the brain from news and information overload. But it also rediscovers the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and even to be creative!
To help children develop their creativity, try asking them to draw or explain what they saw during their walk: a flower, a mushroom, or even a squirrel! Everything counts!
You should now have many, many good reasons to devote some of your precious time to take a walk outside (or, if you are the type, to do some more intensive sporting activities!).