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Nature's Prescription: The Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii has the longest life expectancy of any state in the U.S. The average life expectancy here in Hawaii is 81.3 years, compared to the national average of 78.7 years. Our beautiful aina, including the beaches, mountains, and jungles, can promote relaxation and reduce stress, which in turn helps to increase our longevity. Research suggests that even a small amount of time spent in nature can have a positive impact on our health. However, the more time we spend outdoors, the greater the benefits. For example, a 2016 study published in the journal Nature found that spending 30 minutes or more per week outside in green spaces reduced depression and blood pressure.

As we age, it becomes even more important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to support physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Spending time in nature is an easy way to improve our health and enjoy a better quality of life, and is why I encourage all my clients to get outside and move with a view! It doesn't need to be difficult or time-consuming. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Visit a nearby beach - BONUS: walking barefoot on the sand provides enormous benefits for balance due to the shifting nature of sand and its texture stimulates the sensory neurons in your feet.

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood - even better if you can do it with a friend!

  • Go for a hike in a local park or on one of our many hiking trails.

  • Volunteer for an environmental organization doing beach cleanups or planting trees.

  • Go for a swim in the ocean or in an outdoor pool.

  • Simply spend more time outdoors doing the things you enjoy, such as gardening or playing with grandkids.

If you're not yet convinced, here are five more reasons why getting outside to enjoy Hawaii's beautiful aina is good for you:

  1. Improves physical health. Spending time in nature can improve physical health in a number of ways. For example, walking, hiking, and gardening can help you maintain mobility, strengthen bones and muscles, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Exposure to sunlight can also help the body produce vitamin D, which is important for bone health.

  2. Enhances mental health. Research has found that spending time in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood, and increase feelings of relaxation and calmness. In addition, exposure to nature can help improve focus and concentration, and can help you maintain mental acuity as you get older.

  3. Encourages social engagement. Getting outside is more likely to encourage social engagement and reduce social isolation. Participating in outdoor activities such as walking groups or community gardening can provide opportunities for social interaction and help maintain connections with others, which also helps to reduce anxiety and depression.

  4. Helps you sleep better. Exposure to sunlight has been shown to help regulate your circadian rhythm, which is your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. Going for a brisk walk shortly after waking can help stimulate your brain to give you a caffeine-free boost in the morning, while going for a stroll around the block in the evening when the sun's rays are beginning to disappear can help you fall asleep more easily. (If you're interested in a deeper dive into how sunlight plays a role in our sleep cycles, and how to optimize your sleep, this Huberman Lab Podcast is an excellent resource.)

  5. Increases creativity. Finally, spending time in nature can increase your creativity and inspire new ideas. Exposure to natural environments can help improve cognitive function and increase the capacity for creative thinking. This can benefit both work and personal pursuits.

Overall, spending time in nature is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Whether it's a walk in the park, a hike in the mountains, or a day at the beach, make time for outdoor activities and experience how lucky we are to live in Hawaii.

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