Could Spending Time Outside Help You Live Longer?

Scouts participate in the Greater Los Angeles Area Council’s High Country Gateway Program. Photo by Rachid Dahnoun.

Going camping or hiking with Scouts or Venturers isn’t merely a fun, fulfilling way to spend a weekend. It may also help you feel better, sleep more soundly and live longer.

A massive study published last month by the University of East Anglia in England concludes that exposure to the outdoors reduces your risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and high blood pressure. Time spent in nature also increases sleep duration and decreases stress levels.

Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, the study’s lead author, looked at 143 studies involving more than 290 million people from 20 countries, including the United States. The researchers wanted to determine whether nature nurtures your health in positive ways.

The definitive answer: yes.

“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term well-being hasn’t been fully understood,” Twohig-Bennett says.

How they did it

The researchers looked at the health of people who spend little time outdoors and compared that to the health of people who spend lots of time in nature. Scouts and Scout leaders, though not mentioned by name in the study, fall in the latter group.

The group that spent more time outside had “diverse and significant health benefits,” according to the study.

OK, but why? What causes this positive relationship? That part isn’t yet known, though the study’s authors have some theories.

It could be that people who spend more time outside are more active and social. We know that’s good for your health. It may also be that they have “exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas,” which would help their immune system.

Whatever the cause, study co-author Andy Jones says nature is effective, though often overlooked, medicine.

“We often reach for medication when we’re unwell, but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease,” he says.

What you can do

Your role in this is simple. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and introduce the joys of nature to as many young people as you can.

You can feel good about the time you spend outside, knowing it’s good for you and good for your Scouts and Venturers.

As Twohig-Bennett says: “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves.”

Read the full study for yourself here

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