Get Out! The Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors

In the past few months, there has been much discussion regarding spending time outdoors, while attempting to remain healthy and safe during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond. Is it safe to be out of my home? What is the risk of exercising outside among people who are not immediate family members? Should I wear a mask?

As with other threats to our health, some of the answers can vary depending on the situation and each person’s risk factors, such as age and pre-existing conditions.

This pandemic has created an opportunity for people to learn more about the importance of hand washing and simple steps we can take to control the spread of germs to reduce infections and disease. 

COVID-19 has also sparked countless conversations regarding balancing risks and benefits. For example, do the benefits of being outside outweigh the risks of being near people who may be infected? 

The answer lies in assessing each situation to consider the factors involved, including:

  • The specific situation: How many people and who will be present? How much distance will there be between individuals? Will they be wearing masks? Does the activity present opportunities for a greater chance of the virus being spread, such as people handling the same surfaces?
  • Current local, state, and federal laws and guidelines.
  • Prioritizing your mental and physical health.
  • Your personal comfort level: Our natural instinct typically guides us well.
  • Personal responsibility for not increasing the risk of others becoming ill.

Many people are feeling the negative effects of what many people are calling “isolation fatigue”—feeling irritated, depressed, or just plain bored from spending so much time indoors away from other people. Being outdoors provides numerous benefits to our mental and physical health. Here are a few benefits to consider:

  • Fresh air. Every cell in our bodies needs oxygen. Being outside, especially closer to oxygen-producing trees and plants, helps to maintain health and helps us feel alert.
  • Sunshine. Although we should wear sunscreen to protect our skin from the negative effects of the sun, spending time outdoors provides light therapy, reducing the chance of feeling depressed. Exposure to the sun is also the best way for our bodies to get Vitamin D, which helps with proper brain function and bone health, among other benefits.
  • Exercise. People tend to move more when they are outdoors, even if they are not outside for the express purpose of exercise. Also, the great outdoors provides wonderful opportunities to participate in a wide range of physical activities, including walking, running, biking, hiking, playing sports, or a simple game of hide-and-seek in your own yard!
  • Connecting with others. The outdoors can offer the space required for people to spend time together while maintaining the recommended six-foot distance between people.
  • On the other hand, spending time alone. Being self-isolated with immediate family members 24/7 can create issues due to “too much time together.” Getting outside alone can give us a chance to clear our minds and feel less irritable. If you’re working from home, talking even a short walk is a great way to take a break during the day.
  • Connecting with nature. There’s something primal and wonderful about connecting with nature. Listening to the sounds and appreciating the beauty all around us can help us adopt a more positive frame of mind! Even planting a small garden, container or other, can brighten your day. Plus, you’ll be outside watering and tending to the garden.

Are you spending enough time outdoors? Even doing something as simple as reading a book in the yard can be healthier than reading indoors. People who spend time every day outdoors are shown to have a higher degree of overall health. Are you one of them? If so, great! If not, embrace the great outdoors and enjoy all the benefits nature has waiting for you!

Carol Phillips is a national health and wellness expert, the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health, and the radio host of Ask Coach Carol. Her company, Health Design, helps businesses significantly reduce costs and increase productivity by prioritizing health, wellness, and safety practices. Health Design is a SHRM Recertification Provider. Based in Manchester, NH, she can be reached through her website at HealthDesignNH.com.