From going sans shoes in the grass to taking your om outside, these simple strategies will help improve your physical and mental health.
Why You Should Really Get Outside—Like Right Now
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The summer season ~officially~ kicked off almost two weeks ago now, so chances are you've already taken your indoor gym routine outside or shifted weekend plans to get as much alfresco time as possible. (Preferably with frosé in hand.) Still, it can be hard to carve out more quality time with Mother Nature when you're stuck at a 9-to-5 all week. But you really should make it a priority: The physical and mental benefits of spending time outside are pretty much endless. And we're talking major benefits here, like improving your heart health and lowering your risk for depression. The good news is, you don't even need an entire beach vacation or camping trip. Even taking a quick walk in the park on your lunch break to look at the water or put your toes in the grass will do the trick.
That's why we're dedicating the entire month of July to getting outside as part of our #MyPersonalBest campaign. Whether you're getting your sweat on with that hike that's been on your bucket list or just taking a zen moment to chill out, show us how you're spending more time in the great outdoors this month by posting your photos using #MyPersonalBest.
Photo: Getty Images
Look at the Ocean to Lower Your Stress Levels
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It's no secret that water is extremely calming for most people, and this is backed up by science. Research shows that aquatic scenes can help you bust stress and find joy, and that people who live along coastlines tend to be happier and healthier than people who don't. And it's not just those who live in quaint beach towns who reap the benefits. According to a study published in the journal Health & Place, having visible blue space (aka water views) can improve mental health for those who live in major cities by helping to lower levels of psychological distress. (Related: How to Use Water to Reduce Stress and Soothe Your Mind)
Go Barefoot In the Grass to Improve Your Heart Health
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The concept of "grounding" or "earthing" might sound out-there, but it's really all about making direct physical contact with the surface of the earth—kicking off your shoes to let your toes breathe. And it comes with a huge health perk: A 2013 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that the practice can reduce blood viscosity and therefore may be one of the simplest ways to reduce cardiovascular risk. And a 2012 review found that getting in touch with the electrons on the earth's surface can also help with pain management, stress, and sleep. Barefoot picnics, here we come!
Take a Walk In the Park to Reduce Your Risk for Depression
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We know, peeling yourself from work to go take a walk might sound like a waste of time when faced with a lengthy to-do list. But hear us out. A recently published Stanford-led study found that taking a walk in nature can actually change your brain. In the study, people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area (as opposed to a high-traffic urban setting) showed decreased activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for depression. (Find out how hiking can help depression.) And you'll feel way more productive when you come back to your desk, too. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that people who walked for half an hour on their lunch break three times a week were less tense and more enthusiastic. Worth the time investment.
Take Your Workout Outside to Boost Your Mood and Self-Esteem
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Working out in general is a surefire way to feel better about yourself and boost your mood (duh!), but here's some extra motivation to swap that spin class for a bike ride in the park or take your om outdoors: One multi-study review published in Environmental Science & Technology found that compared with exercising indoors, working out in a natural environment can lead to increases in revitalization and energy and a decrease in tension, confusion, anger, and depression. Another 2013 study found that "green exercise" can restore mental fatigue, improve mood and self-esteem, and help to increase overall physical activity levels. (Psst... Here are six more better-body benefits of taking your workout outdoors!)
Take Up Gardening to Lower Your Risk of Dementia
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Not only is growing your own fresh fruits and veggies great for your diet, but gardening is also known to be a major stress reliever and a way to improve mental clarity. In fact, long-term research has shown that gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia—one new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease showed it can help slash the risk in half. And another study showed that gardening can prolong life in older adults by cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke. Time to get your hands dirty! (Try these first-time gardening tips to find your green thumb.)
Photo: Getty Images
Try Forest Bathing to Lower Your Blood Pressure
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This sounds weirder than it really is—all you have to do is immerse yourself in the woods and remain mindful as you let the healing benefits take over. The Japanese trend of forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, has been around since the 1980s and is known to help counter stress and fight degenerative illnesses such as heart disease. And even if you don't have time to fully "immerse" yourself, a 2013 study also found that even a short-term viewing of forest landscapes can have relaxing effects such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Look at a Nature Picture to Improve Your Memory
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Yep—you don't even technically need to go outside to reap the benefits. A study published in Environment and Behavior found that watching a video of a natural environment (compared to a video of a busy city street) can help to improve memory. A University of Michigan study also found that interacting with nature for just an hour (by either walking in a park or even viewing pictures of nature) can help improve memory and attention. *Immediately changes desktop background*
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