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Want an easy way to relieve stress? Try this doctor-approved way to improve mental, physical health

Why does going outside make you feel good?
Why does going outside make you feel good? 02:40

Stress is all around us, but so is an accessible antidote: the outdoors. Experts say getting outside can have a positive impact on both our mental and physical health

"The outdoors have so many amazing benefits for us," general pediatrician Dr. Vanessa Slots told CBS Minnesota station WCCO. "There are a lot of studies that show being in nature — even if it's just sitting under a tree every day — lowers our stress, which can then in turn lower blood pressure, heart rate and those stress hormones, like cortisol."

In addition to helping people with anxiety and depression, Slots say there are ongoing studies on how outdoor time could also benefit people with ADHD.

"It's been shown it can improve our memory, even," she adds.

The power of nature isn't a new school of thought. Doctors for years have known the benefits of spending time outdoors.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Sarah Paper previously explained that sunlight is part of what makes time outside so uplifting. 

"The sun seems to increase our serotonin, which makes us happier and we can feel more connected, not just to the people around us who are also outside, that's a big part, but also connected to the bigger universe," she said, adding that she recommends spending at least two hours a week in nature.

To optimize nature's calming effect, Slot suggests breathing in fresh air and focusing on the sights and sounds around you. 

You don't need to live near a magnificent mountainside or other spectacular landscape to feel the effects, either.

"Even a pretty dandelion," Paper says. "If you can take in the beauty there, and not just see it as a weed, that helps us and it trains our brain not to look for the negative or upsetting things but rather look for the beauty in the world around us. And that give us hope, too."

Neuropsychologist Dr. Rita Eichenstein told CBS Los Angeles in 2021 that even a few minutes outside can reduce stress levels quickly, especially when paired with exercise. 

"Research has shown that being in nature is calming," she said. "If you have 20 minutes ... take it and move your body. Go around the block, get some fresh air, breathe in, breathe out. ... You will be a different person and it only takes 20 minutes."

How to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors

While the great outdoors can help our health, some parts of it can also hurt it — like skin cancer from the sun and disease-carrying insects. Here are some tips to stay safe while de-stressing:

Wear sunscreen: A broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is your best defense against the sun's harmful rays. 

Protect against pests: Consider insect repellant if you're going to be outdoors for an extended period. The CDC advises using an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET or other insect-repelling ingredients, listed on its website. Once you return indoors, do a tick check and keep an eye on any areas of a suspected bite.

Be cautious of extreme heat: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends trying to stay indoors with air-conditioning when possible in the peak summer heat. But if you're going to venture outside, experts recommend wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, staying hydrated and taking it slow to prevent issues like heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

–Kirsten Mitchell contributed reporting.

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