The Great Outdoors

 cr. Kaya Harris-Read

cr. Kaya Harris-Read

We’ve likely all heard the parental catchphrase “fresh air will do you good,” but (like many parental catchphrases) it rarely comes with an explanation as to why. And while it’s not wrong, you may be surprised at some of the many benefits going outside and getting fresh air can have for the body and mind. So, now that we are into April and are (theoretically) seeing the last of winter for a few months, here are some health-inspired reasons to spend more time outdoors!

Of course, one of the most commonly cited benefits to spending time outdoors is exercise! There have been studies showing that exercising outdoors is more effective and is more beneficial to the body, when compared to exercise done in an indoor gym. For example, one 2011 study found that outdoor exercise leads to greater decreases in stress and tension and is more effective at increasing a person’s mood than indoor exercise.

Being outside has a number of benefits for our physical well-being, beyond simply being an opportunity to get some much-needed exercise. Fresh air increases the amount of oxygen flowing through our lungs, which allows us to digest food more effectively and helps to improve blood pressure and heart rate. Oxygen also helps the function of our white blood cells, which boost our immune system by fighting germs and bacteria making us less likely to catch a cold or the flu. Even our lungs themselves can benefit from breathing in fresh air, as the increased flow of oxygen helps to clear out the lungs by releasing toxins when we exhale.

As well as the physical benefits, being outdoors also helps to improve our mind and our mood. The increased flow of oxygen improves brain function, resulting in better concentration and giving us more energy. This can also help with the body’s production of serotonin, consequently boosting our mood and making us feel happier. Additionally, we burn more energy when we are moving around outside, contributing to a better night’s sleep! But the outdoors has more to offer us than just fresh air. Studies show that the scent of roses, lavender and jasmine have the ability to improve our mood and reduce anxiety and stress. Additionally, the smell of pine trees has a relaxing effect, further reducing stress. And, if there are no gardens or forests near you, the simple scent of freshly cut grass can have a calming effect.

Being outside, especially on a sunny day, also gives us access to vitamin D, which contributes to healthy bones by regulating calcium and maintaining phosphorus levels in the blood. Did you know that vitamin D can even reduce the risk of catching the flu or developing type 2 diabetes? Plus, being in direct sunlight for short periods of time helps us feel happier, more energized and more alert.

Ultimately, any time spent outside is beneficial; however, studies show that our body and mind can make the most of it when this time is spent somewhere in nature, where there is less pollution. Now, this doesn’t mean we have to drive hours away from the city to be in the ‘true’ wilderness, a simple green space with lots of trees and plants will ensure that the air we breathe is cleaner and better for us. And there are plenty of green spaces to be explored around Toronto, including our very own campus, so get outside and breathe in all the benefits of fresh air!