Stopping to admire a bed of flowers, strolling alongside a river, or sitting on a park bench — chances are, at least one of those scenarios, if not all of them, sounds peaceful and uplifting to you. But time spent in nature benefits more than just your spirits: It can lower stress levels, boost your immune system, improve your heart health, alleviate depression and anxiety, and lead to a healthier gut.
Here’s a deeper look at why going outside right now is the best thing you can do for your gut — and your overall health.
1. Being outside boosts your immunity.
Your immune system does two very important things for your gut microbiome: It keeps harmful bacteria from colonizing and growing, and it maintains ideal environments for helpful bacteria to flourish. Spending time in nature affects your immune system in the best way, and because your immune system and microbiome are so closely related, those benefits may transfer to your gut.
In short, when you spend time in nature, you support your immune system, and your immune system supports your gut — and then your gut supports your immune system back. It’s very much a win-win situation.
2. Being outside lowers your stress levels.
Ever notice that high-stress periods in your life are accompanied by gas, bloating, or other digestive discomfort? That’s because stress restricts blood flow to your digestive system, reduces the number of friendly bacteria in your gut, and creates conditions that allow unfriendly microbes to grow. The opposite is also true: The lower your stress levels, the happier your microbiome.
Wondering how you can make that low-stress-happy-gut cycle part of your daily life? Go outside! You probably already know that sunshine makes you feel good, but you may not know just how deeply nature works to improve your mood — going outdoors can serve as a superior form of therapy even for those with severe depression.
3. Being outside encourages you to move.
Exercise aids in weight loss, improves mood, helps you sleep, and reduces your risk of virtually all diseases. And it also encourages the good little guys in your gut to colonize and grow, increasing the populations of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system by up to 40 percent.
Just by being outside, you present yourself with the opportunity to move, even if it’s simply some gently stretching or a brief walk. Even the slightest addition of physical activity to your day can provide serious benefits.
4. Being outside exposes you to more microorganisms.
Low diversity in the gut is heavily associated with a higher risk of inflammation and disease. As a general rule of thumb, the more species that reside in your belly, the healthier you are. And one of the best ways to increase your microbial diversity is to simply step outside.
When you go outdoors, you expose yourself to millions of microbes, many of which can benefit your body and microbiome. In fact, scientists now know that exposing children to dirt and germs is actually essential for strengthening their immune system, which we discussed above as relating to the gut microbiome.
5. Being outside lowers your risk of heart disease.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the ways your gut and your heart work together. For example, your gut bacteria can influence your risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes; increase your risk for high blood pressure; and affect your cholesterol and blood fat levels and your arteries.
Whew — now that you know all of that, you should also know that you can reduce your risk of all those things just by going outside. Cool, right?
Think about everything you’ve learned so far: Going outside can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; boost your immune system; encourage you to exercise; and increase your microbial diversity. All of those things relate back to your gut, which relates back to your heart. Notice how all the different parts of your body work together to best serve you when you give it the right conditions.