By Jane Marsh
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
When a chill wind is blowing, going outside may be the last thing you want to do. But there are numerous ways to connect with the outdoors, even during winter.
You can start an indoor garden, hang a birdfeeder by the window, play nature sounds on a speaker or make crafts that use natural elements. If you’re feeling up to it, you can take short walks outside, make a snowman or go ice skating. Incorporating nature into your everyday life has countless health benefits, so either brave the cold or bring the outdoors in.
Health Benefits of Connecting With Nature
Interacting with plants, animals and natural scenery isn’t just fun — it’s also good for your mind and body. Here are 10 physical and mental rewards you might experience.
1. Lowering Your Cortisol
In simple terms, cortisol is a stress hormone. The more of it circulating in your body, the more stressed you’ll feel, in addition to having lowered immune function, weaker bones and memory problems. A 2019 study found spending at least 10 minutes in nature three times a week significantly reduced cortisol levels. So, spend some time outside this winter — doctor’s orders.
2. Reducing Depression
Some people suffer from a low mood in the winter months. It’s perfectly understandable — the combination of early sunsets and colder, often wetter weather can make even the cheeriest person feel gloomy. But a large part of that is caused by spending more time indoors.
Think of how much exercise and social interaction you get in summer by taking walks, working in the garden, going to barbecues and enjoying the community pool. By staying inside in the winter, you miss out on many physical and mental stimulation opportunities. Getting back outside — even for just a few minutes a day — can do wonders for your mood.
You can also do indoor activities that will cheer you up, such as making wreaths, decorating a Christmas tree or putting together your own potpourri mix. These are still great ways to connect with nature.
3. Lowering Your Heart Rate
Just looking at nature can lower your heart rate. If you can’t get outdoors, several studies have found that watching videos or looking at pictures of nature can slow your heartbeat, a classic sign of being relaxed. A lower resting heart rate is typically better for you. That’s good news if you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health.
4. Calming Your Mind
Being snowed in can make anyone stir crazy, but getting fresh air or engaging in fun indoor activities can reduce your anxiety. A 2021 study found workers who spent time in green spaces — even indoors — had less overall stress than those who did not.
In fact, the area doesn’t have to be green literally to provide this benefit. Sunlight and outdoor water features also seem to reduce pressure.
Consider getting some indoor plants to liven up your living space, opening a window to let in the fresh air and pulling back the curtains to let in more sunlight. This can provide a sense of tranquility even on a cold, definitely-staying-indoors kind of day.
5. Getting Better Sleep
This one’s all about sunlight. Even on an overcast day, the sun still brightens the landscape, telling your body’s internal clock it’s time to wake up and be active. When the sun sets, your body responds to the darkness by calming down and preparing to sleep.
Make an effort to let in natural light during the winter. Though the sun sets earlier, try to stay awake under artificial light for a short time and instead let the darkness be a signal to wind down. Put your electronics away and do something relaxing, such as taking a bath or drinking tea. Syncing your body’s circadian rhythm with the natural light could help you sleep better.
6. Increasing Your Energy Levels
Have a case of the winter blues? Take a walk. If it’s absolutely freezing outside, consider just walking to the mailbox or the dumpster and back. Even brief periods of outdoor exercise can give you an overall energy boost. Coupled with the heavy comfort foods most people enjoy over the holidays, sitting around inside can make you feel sluggish.
Not only will exercising improve your energy levels, but it will also give you an excuse to indulge in just one more slice — or three — of pumpkin pie. You deserve it for braving the cold.
7. Improving Digestion
You might be surprised to learn nature exposure could benefit your digestive system. How? Depending on where you go, outdoor air quality can be significantly better than the air you breathe indoors. Areas farther from human development tend to have lower levels of air pollution.
A 2018 study found mice exposed to air pollution had altered gut biomes compared to mice breathing clean air, with different bacteria species growing in their GI tracts. Although mice aren’t directly analogous to humans, air quality could play a significant role in digestive health, with better air lowering gut inflammation.
8. Sharpening Your Mind
Being outdoors can improve your focus and improve your mood. Exposure to nature links to improved cognitive performance and attention spans, which is necessary in the era of aimless scrolling and five-second video clips. Your brain will thank you for taking a break from screens.
9. Lowering Your Blood Pressure
Remember how nature exposure lowers your cortisol levels? This, in turn, can lower your blood pressure. That’s a typical physical response when you’re relaxed. Many people suffer from high blood pressure, so having a simple way to lower it could be very beneficial.
10. Getting a Vitamin D Boost
Sunlight triggers your body to produce Vitamin D. Having ample amounts of this crucial substance improves your energy and overall sense of well-being and boosts your immune system. If you stay indoors all day, you might not create enough Vitamin D, so make an effort to soak up what little sunlight is available.
Make it fun! Go sledding, have a snowball fight or make snow angels when there’s a break in the clouds.
Beating the Winter Blues
Getting outside in the colder months can be tough for many people, but there are still ways to connect with the natural world. Whether by taking brisk walks, starting an indoor garden or hanging a birdfeeder, engaging with nature has numerous health benefits. At the end of the day, your warm, cozy blankets will still be waiting for you.
About the author:
Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life.