By Kayla Downs
The outdoors have become of renewed interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no shortage of literature and data conveying how spending time in nature can positively impact people physically, emotionally, and mentally. One area that is often overlooked is how spending time outside can benefit college students particularly. Especially due to COVID-induced remote learning, students are spending far more time looking at screens than ever before. The majority of our classes are online, all of our homework and studying requires a laptop, and even our social lives are more tech dependent than ever before.
As it begins to feel like springtime in the Northeast, more people are outside and there is a noticeable change in the energy on campus. The nice weather allows people to socialize while staying socially distant after months of the cold, dark winter of Vermont. The sun is a welcomed visitor,but the fresh air and sunshine can do much more than sprout a fleeting shot of dopamine.
A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School looked at the associations between time spent around nature (neighborhood parks, beaches, or woodlands) and various health indicators (White et al., 2019). They found that individuals who reported at least 120 minutes or more of time spent outdoors per week were more likely to self-report better health and well-being, when compared to those who spent less than 120 minutes (White, 2019). They also found that after 120 minutes, there were decreasing marginal returns until about 200-300 minutes, where the “relationship flattened or even dropped” Typically spending time outside is associated with greater physical activity which can help explain the correlation to better health, but this isn’t the whole picture.
In addition to an increase in self-reported well-being, spending time outside has been shown to restore our “attentional capacity” (Berto, 2005). This is what allows us to focus and it can become depleted after spending too much time in one setting or focusing on one thing. Getting outside can allow our brain to rest and allow for better work when we resume a task. Other studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce ADHD symptoms, especially in children (Louv, 2005).
Getting out of your dorm room or apartment and into the sunshine and fresh air can provide a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. It gives your eyes a screen break, it allows your body to stretch and move, it can help you focus better, and relieve stress. It can also just be fun to get outside with your friends and play some frisbee or eat lunch. It may often seem like you cannot afford to take a break in college, but the reality is that you will be able to be much more productive after a break, especially if you get outside!
White, M. P., et al. (2019, June 13). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3?fbclid=IwAR3G-raHSnyJl6M_wnVYweU_8GmMgiCyKqWTxpVczI6-F5ZvZMfO8yhiWjQ#Sec2
Berto, R. (2005, November 08). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attentional capacity. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494405000381
Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.