By Katie Alvin Explore Big Sky Contributor
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed. Spring is officially here and summer is just around the corner. It’s time to take advantage of longer days and warmer temperatures, and to discover what nature has to offer, not just for recreation, but for health and well-being too.
While it’s intuitive – perhaps even obvious – that getting outside improves your mood, sometimes it’s hard to get out of the rut and connect with that view out the window. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make a difference: Research shows that a little goes a long way. When reporting on the metal health effects of spending time in “green space,” journalist Robin Mejia found that the initial five minutes outside produced the most profound positive effect. Here are five other reasons to make an effort to take five outside – starting today.
According to a recent study, University of Essex researcher Jules Pretty showed that “Physical activity participation in green settings [as opposed to the same activity indoors] is associated with decreased feelings of tension, confusion, anger and depression, whilst exhibiting greater feelings of revitalization.” Another long-term study by Lithuanian researcher Abdonas Tamosiunas and recently published in Environmental Health found that subjects living nearer to and using local green spaces had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Great news for Big Sky residents; simply living in an area surrounded by wild spaces is good for your health.
Recovering from illness or injury? You’re in the right place again. Researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found that women who spent between two and four hours in the woods for two consecutive days experienced a nearly 50 percent increase in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells. But don’t worry if mobility issues prevent you from getting outside. Exeter Medical School professor Michael DePledge found that simply providing a hospital window view onto garden-like scenes can reduce patients’ postoperative recovery periods and pain medication requirements.
Feeling fried? Get outside! Though it might seem like taking an outdoor break would be a distraction, education researchers have shown that it actually increases focus. In fact, getting away from developed areas is even better. A University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science study found that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder scored higher on a concentration test after a walk through a park than after a walk through a residential neighborhood or downtown area.
Getting outside not only improves concentration, but also affects overall performance. Evergreen State College researcher Oksana Bartosh found schools with environmental education programs that use the outdoors as a teaching environment consistently have higher standardized test scores. Though you may not be lucky enough to be an Ophir School fourth grader – teacher Jeremy Harder is known for his outdoor classroom focus – you can still find ways to use outdoor spaces for work to help boost productivity and performance.
Finally, in an interesting study related to environment, psychology and education researchers at the University of Rochester found that subjects immersed in nature were more generous and outwardly focused than those that were assessed in an indoor environment. Simply put, nature makes you nicer.
Overall, research consistently shows that providing public areas for people to connect with nature has positive effects. And efforts toward improving preventative health strategies can be more effective by incorporating better access to parks and recreation areas. Fortunately, Big Sky is ahead of the curve, so take advantage and get outside!
Katie Alvin has lived in Big Sky for more than 20 years. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Soil Science, she has been involved with environmental and outdoor education for 25 years, and owns East Slope Outdoors with her husband Dave.