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Feel richer, happier and younger: why we should all spend more time in the great outdoors

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Admit it: you probably spend too much time inside. Not for us Brits the alfresco lifestyles of our cousins on the continent. It’s not that we don’t want to spend time outside; head to any pub garden or park on a rare sunny day, and you’ll see plenty of vitamin D-starved Brits with their faces tilted to the sky like so many sunflowers.

Sadly, though, we’ve got a generally-dreary climate and the demands of modern urban life to contend with. Consequently, the only time many of us really spend outdoors is as we dash from our homes to the office, to the pub and back again.

But a raft of recent research suggests that spending time around nature isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s actively good for us. Why? Read on...

It boosts your body image and self-esteem

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Being outdoors has been shown to make you feel happier about your appearance.

Appreciating the beauty of the natural world makes us more likely to appreciate the beauty of our own bodies, according to one recent study.

The research, published in the journal Body Image, showed that adults who spent more time around nature scored higher on a ‘body appreciation’ scale, reporting higher levels of self-esteem and body image.

The body appreciation scale measured participants’ respect for their own bodies, as well as how able they were to reject unrealistic social and media pressure over their appearance.

“Spending time in a natural environment may help us develop a sense of ownership over our physical selves, give us a greater respect for our bodies, and a better understanding of what our bodies can do rather than what our bodies look like,” says Professor Viren Swami, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Psychology department, who led the study.

Professor Swami suggests that hanging out outdoors might make us more likely to want to take care of the natural world – and, by extension, look after of our own bodies.

He adds that spending time around nature could also make us more compassionate and relaxed, which might “generate feelings of social and self-acceptance”. 

You’ll feel younger – and richer

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To be fair, we'd feel happy if we lived on a street like this, too.

In 2015, a team of scientists in Toronto investigated the health benefits of living on a tree-lined street. Using health surveys, satellite images and tree inventories, they discovered that residents living on tree-lined streets experienced significant psychological benefits. According to the researchers, the effects were as dramatically positive as feeling up to seven years younger than people who didn’t have any trees on their block – or like they earned up to $10,000 more a year.

Not lucky enough to live in a leafy neighbourhood? Just taking a detour via tree-lined streets on your route home from work, or taking an evening stroll in the park, are likely to boost your mood. 

It benefits your physical and mental health – and your social life

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Spending time outside has been shown to boost our sense of community.

Another new study found that spending just 30 minutes a week around nature could be enough to tackle the health threats posed by an urban lifestyle.

Modern cities, according to researchers from the University of Exeter and Australia’s University of Queensland, are fast becoming “epicentres for chronic, non-communicable physical and mental health conditions”, from high blood pressure to depression.

However, they found that if people visited outdoor, green spaces for half an hour or more at least once a week, the rate of high blood pressure in a community could be reduced by 9% and depression by 7%. Spending time with nature was also found to improve social cohesion, as it increased the likelihood that people would get to know other people in their communities.

In a similar vein, scientists at the University of Essex reported in 2010 that spending just five minutes exercising around nature can boost our happiness and self-esteem. 

So even if the weather isn’t exactly delightful, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all squeeze in a little more time outside. Grab your coat – you’ll thank us later. 

Images: iStock

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