I’m quite a homebody at heart.
I can quite happily spend the day at home, just pottering around. But I’m very aware that my whole family benefits when we get out the front door and have a bit of fresh air.
For anyone out there who’s like me and sometimes needs a bit of a nudge out the door, here are 5 great reasons to spend more time outside as a family.
1. You’ll all feel less stressed
Getting out when the sun is shining can help our bodies produce more serotonin, that lovely feel-good hormone that helps us feel more relaxed and less anxious.
And even on overcast days it’s worth heading out to the park or the beach as a family, especially if you’ve been particularly stressed with work meetings or tests at school. According to Kaplan’s (1995) Attention Restoration Theory, nature can help us feel refreshed and renew our focus after using up a lot of mental energy.
The theory is based around there being two different attentional systems.
The first is directed attention, which requires extended focus and the effort of ignoring distractions. We use this kind of directed attention when we’re trying to finish a tricky project at work, or take a test at school.
The other attentional system is soft fascination, which doesn’t require any focus on our part and instead just involves effortless reflection. We find ourselves in this state of soft reflection when we’re out in nature, and it can be a fantastic way to recover from the mental fatigue of directed attention.
2. It’ll give you all more energy
Being tired seems to be part and parcel of being a parent, and I know I rely quite a lot on coffee and tea to boost my energy through the day. My children seem to naturally be full of energy, but even they have their times towards the end of each term when their energy levels drop.
The answer to giving the whole family an energy boost could be to head outside for some fresh air.
A study carried out by Ryan et. al (2010) found that just 20 minutes outside in nature can be enough to significantly increase our vitality levels.
The lead author of the study has this to say about it:
“Nature is fuel for the soul, often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature,”
3. Everyone’s immune system will get a boost
Another fact of life is that children are little germ carriers, and once they start at nursery or school they will bring home every bug going and infect the whole family with it.
So anything you can do to boost your immune systems and help you all stay a bit healthier can only be a good thing.
Quite a few studies have been done that proved that our immune systems get a boost from heading outside and being in nature. One in Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that women who spent at least three hours outside every day had an increase in their white blood cell levels, which can help to fight off bugs and viruses. But I’m not sure how realistic it is for most of us to spend three hours outside every day.
What might be more realistic for families is getting out for a walk in the local forest. And a study carried out in 2010 found that doing this can boost our immune systems. Apparently when we walk through forests we breathe in natural phytoncides that are in the air. This is basically particles of a-pinene and limonene from the wood of the trees in the forest, which have an interesting effect on us humans. The participants in the study who breathed in these particles had their blood tested and they found increased activity of natural killer cells.
What’s especially interesting is that even 30 days later the effects of increased immune function where still there.
4. You’ll all get a dose of vitamin D.
It can be really hard to make sure that the whole family eats a balanced diet and gets all the nutrients they need. One pretty easy way to make sure we get enough vitamin D though, is to head outside and show some skin.
Just 15 minutes direct sun exposure a day is enough to help our bodies produce the vitamin D that we need.
This then helps our children’s bodies to grow and for their bones to develop properly. And the whole family gets the benefits of strengthened immune systems and reduced inflammation.
5. Everyone will sleep better
Spending time outside, in natural light is so important for keeping our body clocks on track.
Researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine found that natural sunlight is really important for setting our body clocks. Spending 30-60 minutes outside in direct sunlight can really improve our sleep patterns, help us to fall asleep more quickly and wake up less often through the night.
If at all possible, take your family for a good walk on the coast as much as you can, to really help everyone get a better night’s sleep.
A study carried out for the National Trust found that people slept for around 47 minutes longer after a good seaside walk. People who did a similar walk inland did also sleep for longer that night, but only by 12 minutes. So it seems that there really is something special about that sea air.
How often do you spend time outside with your children? Do you notice that you all seem to feel better when you do get out and about more?