As a child, I had no shortage of grown-ups in my life who encouraged me to “go play outside”. I’m sure that on occasion this response was prompted by a whiny “I’m bored” from me or my friends, constantly seeking new forms of entertainment, particularly in the summer months.
At the time, part of me assumed this was an adult’s way of avoiding being asked to watch my sister and I lip sync the chart toppers for the umpteenth time, or reenactments of our favourite Disney movies. While these were perhaps valid reasons to suggest a quick distraction or change of scenery, it turns out that there is evidence supporting some very real health benefits that come from spending time outside.
Biophilia translates literally to “love of life or living systems”. It has become a term in evolutionary psychology that is used to describe an innate human attraction to all which is vital and living. This theory has been applied more recently when examining the health and wellbeing benefits of nature and our natural environment.
Five health benefits of playing outside:
1. Reduced stress levels (*bonus: improves mental health as well as cardiovascular health)
2. Elevated mood and a more positive attitude
3. Improved attention and mental capacity
4. Increased longevity
5. Increased levels of self-reported ‘good health’
There are a number of accompanying theories as to what characteristics within nature are specifically responsible for the resulting health benefits. Some of these include:
- Nature provides the opportunity for increased physical activity, which can support better heart, bone and joint health.
- Activities performed outdoors often encourage or involve socializing, which builds social support networks.
- The physical characteristics of elements found in nature (air quality, pleasant smells, colour and light) are both visually appealing and physically beneficial, improving the overall experience of any activity performed outdoors vs indoors.
Five ways to reap the benefits of nature (without sport or formalized activity).
1. Get in the garden. Offer to garden for a neighbor or friend if you do not have the space.
2. Explore BC’s trails and natural wilderness. Bonus is, it is free!
3. Eat lunch outside. I recommend a bench along Main Mall.
4. Bring your book to the nearest neighbourhood park.
5. Invite nature in by placing plants or flowers around your home and office.
Nothing like finding scientific evidence to back up the fact that your parents were right all along, is there?
This month, I invite you to try and interact with your natural environment is some way every day. It might be as simple as stopping to smell a fragrant plant or flower on your way into the office. Perhaps you walk barefoot through the grass in a park or your backyard. Maybe invite some colleagues out to play bocce at lunch.
However you choose to experience nature this summer, take advantage of the beautiful weather and give your wellbeing a little boost at the same time.
All my best,
Clowney, D. (2013). Biophilia as an environmental virtue. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 26(5), 999-1014.
Grinde, B., & Patil, G. G. (2009). Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(9), 2332–2343.
Gullone, E. (2000). The biophilia hypothesis and life in the 21st century: Increasing mental health or increasing pathology? Journal of Happiness Studies, 1(3), 293-322.
Huelat, B. (2008). The Wisdom of Biophilia-Nature in Healing Environments. Journal of Green Building, 3(3), 23-35.