12 Health Benefits of Outdoor Living Spaces
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors. Based on the time and year and location, American homeowners have anywhere between 9 hours and 16 hours of daylight to enjoy each day. Subtract the average workday of 8.5 hours and you’re left with 30 minutes to 7.5 hours of daylight to enjoy. When you have only a small amount of time to enjoy the sunshine, having your own outdoor living space is highly convenient.
Even a small outdoor living space can do more than add value to your home – it can improve your overall health. It should come as no surprise that taking time to unplug, sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature is good for your well being. You may be surprised at just how many areas of your health can improve by dining al fresco, unwinding on your patio, or taking game night outside.
Boost Your Immune System
Fresh, outdoor air is full of phytoncides – airborne chemicals produced by plants to protect themselves from becoming an insect’s lunch. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, breathing in these phytoncides causes your body to increase its production of the NK white blood cells that kill virally infected and tumor-infected cells in your body.
Tip: Common oak, cedar and pine trees produce high levels of phytoncides. If your allergies allow, incorporate them into your landscaping.
Increase Vitamin D Levels
Between work, commutes, and (hopefully) the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, it can be hard to find time to soak up the sun. Unfortunately, this means many working Americans are missing out on the free source for vitamin D. Luckily, as little as 15 minutes of sunshine a day can increase your vitamin D levels and help you feel better during those long hours indoors.
Tip: Make sure to wear sunscreen during any prolonged sun exposure.
In addition to the benefits of vitamin D for treating inflammation, getting outside is a great way to practice “earthing” or “grounding.” The science behind earthing states that connecting with the earth supplies the body with negative electrons and neutralizes the damaging free radicals linked with chronic inflammation.
Tip: Wake up by kicking off your shoes and hand-watering your lawn. Walking in the damp grass is a totally free way to practice earthing.
For children, spending more time outdoors has been linked with a decrease in the development of myopia or nearsightedness. In adults, reducing screen time and unplugging outdoors has shown to reduce the eye strain, stress and headaches associated with “computer vision syndrome.”
Tip: Hang a bird feeder and watch the local birds in your backyard.
Improve Your Mood
Science has proved that you really should stop and smell the flowers. In Japan there is a practice called shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” where you simply take time to connect with nature through all of your senses. A 2019 study of working age people with and without depressive tendencies found that “forest bathing” resulted in significant positive effects on mental health, especially for those with depressive tendencies.
Tip: Schedule a two-hour block to unplug, slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of your own backyard.
We’ve all heard that communication is key for a successful relationship. Luckily, your relationships can benefit from something as simple as spending time on your patio or around the fire pit. Spending time together in nature increases cognitive function, which can help you both think and communicate more clearly.
Tip: Instead of eating in front of the television, enjoy your meal al fresco on your patio, or lay down a blanket for an impromptu picnic.
Increase Prosocial Behavior
A University of California, Berkeley study found that spending time in nature can lead to an increase in prosocial behavior or “voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals.” The positive emotions elicited by the sights and sounds of nature can increase your happiness and desire to help others.
Tip: If you’re in an antisocial slump, spend an hour or two planting or maintaining flowers, trees, or vegetables in your own backyard.
Improve Work Performance
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can reduce mental fatigue, increase creativity, and even improve your mental and physical well-being. Even the most passionate employees can experience burnout, but spending more time in nature can eliminate some of the contributing factors within their own control.
Tip: If you work in an office, try to have breakfast or dinner outside at least 3 times a week.
Whether it’s a perfect spring morning, a miserably hot summer afternoon, or a freezing winter evening, spending time outside can improve your memory and focus. A University of Michigan study found that participant’s memory improved by as much as 20% after walking in nature. If you have a big test, speech or meeting coming up, get outside beforehand to boost your memory and attention.
Tip: Before studying or preparing for a meeting, spend some quiet time on your patio to clear your mind.
A study found that Americans, on average, get 43 minutes of “me-time” a day, and some of that is spent in the bathroom. Being in nature can reduce your heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure, but demanding schedules don’t leave a lot of time to unwind. Having a safe and clean space in your own backyard makes it easy to reduce stress on your own schedule.
Tip: Keep your patio area clean and inviting with comfortable furniture and simple landscaping.
Between televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones, Americans spend a lot of time looking at screens. Those devices often emit blue light – the same blue light found in sunlight that suppresses melatonin production and throws off your circadian rhythm. Turning off lights, and enjoying the crackle of a fire outside (without your phone!) can lower your blood pressure and allows your body to prepare for sleep.
Tip: Turn off your lights and unwind at night beside a fire pit, chiminea or outdoor fireplace.
If you need another reason to get outside, a study by the University of Anglia found that increasing the time you spend outdoors reduces the risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and premature death. Additionally, older adults who spend time outdoors heal faster and get more exercise.
Tip: Garden, cook, exercise or socialize in your backyard for at least an hour a day.