Maggie Reynolds, Counselor with Work-Life Connections, discusses the extraordinary health benefits of spending time in nature. She shares the positive physical and psychological effects exposure to the outdoors has on both adults and children.
Bridgette Butler: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness wellcast. I'm Bridgette Butler with Health Plus. It's finally autumn. Take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and allow nature to nurture you. Today we are speaking with Maggie Reynolds, Clinical Counselor with Work/Life Connections, to better understand how getting out and into nature greatly improves our well-being. Welcome, Maggie.
Maggie Reynolds: Hi, Bridgette. Thanks. Glad to be here.
Bridgette Butler: What are the benefits of being out in and feeling a part of nature?
Maggie Reynolds: We have found that there are a ton of benefits for being out in nature, both for our mental health and our physical health. We have found that research shows that there are an array of positive psychological impacts on being outside. Being outdoors in the woods and in park spaces has been associated with decreased stress. It helps to fight depression and anxiety. Walking out in nature has been shown to improve short-term memory loss. It helps us to improve our focus and mental fatigue and we have actually found that being outside in natural sunlight helps for us to sleep at night because it resets some of our sleep-wake cycles that we need to fall asleep at night.
Bridgette Butler: There are tremendous benefits to being outdoors.
Maggie Reynolds: Yes, and those are just most of the psychological impacts. Some of the physical impacts that we found is that being outside actually has anti-inflammatory effects as well as, you know, being out in the sun helps provide the vitamin D that we find that a lot of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Bridgette Butler: So, lots of great reasons to try to step outside during the day, especially when the weather is as beautiful!
Maggie Reynolds: Yes.
Bridgette Butler: So, these benefits that you just informed us of - do they also extend to children?
Maggie Reynolds: They do, absolutely. So, just similar to with adults, being outdoors can help kids to reduce their stress and mental fatigue. The research has found that it helps to improve their confidence, too. You know, being outside in the environment helps children to learn in different ways than they might in the classroom or in the home, and also similarly, adults are more likely to be active when they are outside versus inside, and I think that is the same with children. You know, various research studies have shown that when children are outside, they are actually more likely, and I think the numbers are double for their level of activity, physical activity, when they are outside versus when they are inside sitting in front of a screen, whether it be computer, video games, or T.V. In our age of technology, it is extra important for kids to get outside.
Bridgette Butler: Absolutely. I know that screen time can be a big part of life these days. Now, are there any additional benefits that are really primarily for children as opposed to adults, or are they pretty similar?
Maggie Reynolds: One of the primary things that stands out to me is when we are working with children who are diagnosed with ADHD or ADD and again, the research has shown that being outdoors for these kids can be specifically beneficial and they have found that being outdoors and playing outside has improved their concentration, it allows them a place to release some of their hyperactivity, and it also can provide some restorative factors to relieve that mental fatigue and that research has found decreases these kids' tendencies towards aggression and some of the angry outbursts that can come along with the disorder.
Bridgette Butler: That's fantastic ... a very natural way to assist these children. That's great. And what are some good ways to enjoy nature right now because I'm sold. I'm going to get outdoors.
Maggie Reynolds: Well, Nashville has some great opportunities to be outside, you know, and they don't have to be things that you pay for. So, we have lots of free parks and hiking trails. So, places like Percy and Edwin Warner have a lot of outdoor trails and the Percy Priest Lake is a great access point to see some wildlife and be outside on the trails. There are also annual events that are occurring this fall. In Centennial Park, they have, you know, the fall Tennessee Craft Fair and the Nashville Cultural Festival that happen every year, and again, they are free and close to campus, and then, you know, I like to mention that our campus is an arboretum in and of itself. So, I really encourage people to get outside during the work day. Take 15 minutes to go for a walk and breathe in some fresh air and look around at our gorgeous campus that's right outside. I do want to mention, too, that some of the impacts that I have been discussing can be gleaned as well from just bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside, and that might include putting up pictures of scenery, outdoor scenery, or bringing a plant inside, and again, we have found that that can have some of the similar positive impacts as being outdoor itself.
Bridgette Butler: Oh, that's fantastic, because we are lucky to be here at Vanderbilt where we do have access to some outdoor beauty, both on our campus and with Centennial Park being so close by. I love that idea that even bringing it indoors if you can't get outside, that's also helpful, too, to have that reminder of nature right there at hand.
Maggie Reynolds: Yes, indeed.
Bridgette Butler: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Maggie, for sharing with us today.