Science and Tech


Going Outside Boosts Your Immune System And Your Happiness

Spending time indoors could mean missing out on natural defenses against cardiovascular disease and other conditions.
Posted at 1:15 PM, Nov 27, 2018

Natural medicine can smack of snake oil and weird promises about supplements and essential oils. But there's another way of thinking about this. Nature as medicine. Emerging science suggests a walk in the woods can sometimes do what a bottle of pills can't. 

Just being exposed to the outdoors can improve:

 — Mood. Living near trees may make people less prone to violence in cramped public housing.

 — Problem solving. We're way faster and more efficient at solving problems after hikes.

 — Focus. Just seeing pictures of nature can sharpen our attention.

And then there's the immune system. It seems the great outdoors keeps healthy the system that keeps us healthy. Professor Ming Kuo at the University of Illinois studies the effects of nature on the human body. 

She scoured the research and found 21 benefits, many stemming back to our immune system, writing that nature "provides protections against a startling range of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more."

At the root is our immune system, working every second of the day to make sure we stay in tip-top shape. But even the body's "Energizer bunny" system needs fresh batteries sometimes. Bring in the trees! 

Kuo theorizes that being outside is like bathing in an elixir of immune boosting ingredients. Put together, they're close to magic. You have microbes from plants that "reduce blood pressure, alter autonomic activity, and boost immune functioning."

In areas near running water, we breathe in negative air ions, which help with depression. You also get tiny bacteria, sunlight and a whole bunch of other microscopic organisms with weird names, all of which help our bodies, from skin to gut to brain, fight off things that make us sick. So get outside. Suck in some fresh air. Then run a marathon or Netflix and chill — either way, you'll be healthier.