Oak Street Health is part of CVS Healthspire™


6 Health Benefits of Spending Time Outside And In Nature

Written by 
Molly Burford
Reviewed by 
Rene Roberts, MD

Article at a glance

  • There are many positives related to spending time outdoors and in nature including better mental and physical health as well as cognitive benefits.

  • Spending time outdoors encourages socializing and physical activity. 

  • There are various ways to spend time outside including exercising outdoors, going to a park, spending time in nature, and more.

There’s a reason it’s called the great outdoors.” Spending time outside and getting some fresh air is incredibly beneficial to human health and wellness, including improved physical and mental health. 

This article will discuss the many benefits of spending time outside in the natural world.

Potential Benefits Of Spending Time Outdoors

There are numerous health benefits both physically and mentally to spending time in natural environments including better sleep, improved mental health, enhanced immune system function, and more.

Improves Mental Health

Research has shown that time in green spaces can improve one’s overall sense of wellbeing. 

Time in nature is linked to increased happiness and decreased mental distress such as negative affect.

Outdoor activity can also enhance one’s self-esteem. In fact, even just five minutes spent near green space or blue space can give a confidence boost.

One study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that green spaces were linked with a lower incidence of depression in study participants.

Improves Sleep Quality

Your sleep cycle also positively benefits from being outside due to the exposure to natural light, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Getting enough sleep is particularly important in older populations because their eyes may be less likely to absorb light, leading to sleep issues.

Enhances Immune System Function

Sunlight is excellent for the immune system. For starters, natural light from the sun spurs vitamin D production, which is essential for health. Vitamin D is also essential for the bones and blood cells.

As well, sunlight stimulates T cells that are imperative for fighting infections.

Fosters Social Connection

Spending time in a natural environment can also improve your social life. Research shows that spending time outdoors encourages social interaction and positive social experiences. Positive social interactions are imperative for overall health and wellness. In fact, the quality of our relationships often correlate with the longevity of our lives. 

Sharpens Focus

Outdoor time impacts cognition in positive ways as well. Research shows that taking breaks to spend time in nature helps reset one’s focus. A study from the University of Michigan found that memory and attention spans were improved by 20 percent after interacting with nature for one hour.

Inspires Physical Activity

If you have been wanting to be more physically active, simply step outside. There are plenty of outdoor activities to take part in from walking to kayaking to gardening and more. 

Getting regular physical activity has a host of health benefits including improved brain health, healthy weight management, a reduced risk of disease, strengthened bones and muscles, and enhanced ability to carry out daily tasks and responsibilities. 

Improves Overall Health 

Time spent outside also is linked to better health physically. Some potential positive effects of time spent in nature include healthy weight management and a reduced risk of high blood pressure.

Outdoor Activity Ideas

There are so many different ways to get outdoor time. Not to mention, being outdoors and soaking in nature is the perfect, budget-friendly way to pass time. Just make sure to apply your broad spectrum sunscreen before you head out. Below are some ideas for outdoor activities.

Exercise Outdoors

Outdoor exercise is a wonderful way to spend time outdoors. Some options include:

  • Walk

  • Run/​jog

  • Yoga

  • Hike

  • Bike ride

  • Recreational sports

Forest Bathe

Forest bathing refers to time spent in forest environments. Several studies have shown that forest bathing is energizing as well as helps improve sleep quality and the immune system.

A great way to forest bathe would be to set up a hammock, read a book on a nearby bench, walk a local trail, or spend time birdwatching.

Go to a Local Park

Going to a local park offers opportunities to socialize with others, get exercise, and breathe in some fresh air. Some parks include a lake you could fish in, outdoor exercise equipment you can test out, or tables that are perfect for picnicking and gathering with loved ones.

Tend To Your Garden

Gardening is a wonderful, mindful hobby that allows for more time in nature. Spend time tending to beautiful flowers or nurturing homegrown vegetables. If you’re a fan of birdwatching, you can set up a birdbath, birdhouses, or bird feeders in your yard to attract local birds. Not to mention, hummingbird feeders which are easy to keep up with a simple sugar water mixture.

Pass Time By The Water

There are a variety of ways to spend time in nature that don’t involve greenery such as spending time in or near the water. Some ways to spend time by the water include:

  • Fishing

  • Kayaking

  • Canoeing

  • Swimming

  • Beach walks

  • Boating

  • Paddleboarding

  • Rafting

Socialize Outdoors

Because of the wonderful benefits nature can bring, many stores, restaurants, and pop up events are taking to the streets. Visit a local brewery that resides outside or walk around an outlet mall the next time you want to shop. Also, be sure to check your local listings for special outdoor events like concerts, farmer’s markets, flea markets, sporting events, and other timely activities.


How often should I apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. It is important to reapply sunscreen every two hours after the initial application. Use an SPF of 15 or higher.

Why is it important to spend time outdoors daily?

There are many benefits to going outside. Being outside can improve health and wellness. It also encourages physical activity and social interaction. As well, nature can impact stress levels, lowering them.

Does going outside help with anxiety?

Yes. Some research suggests that spending time outdoors can help ease anxiety symptoms. Other mental health benefits of going outside includes lower stress, positive emotions, enhanced purpose and meaning, and a better sense of well being.

How can I protect myself from air pollution when I'm spending time outside?

Climate change has become a public health issue as well. Some ways to mitigate the impact of air pollution include avoiding exhaust smoke, wearing a mask, keeping up to date with air quality reports, etc.

Become a patient

Experience the Oak Street Health difference, and see what it’s like to be treated by a care team who are experts at caring for older adults.

Related articles

View all articles

Get access to care, right in your neighborhood.