Why is it so Important for College Students to Go Outside?

It’s one of those beautiful spring days, and you feel like you should be going outside in the sun to tan and enjoy the day. If you’re a college student, going outside may not seem like an option. It can sometimes seem like you’re stuck in an endless loop: going from class, to the library, heading home to study, and then doing it all over again the next day. There’s always something else to check off the to-do list!

You may feel like, ultimately, you need to choose between leisure time outdoors and rigorous study time indoors—but balancing the two might be a better and healthier solution. 

After pulling an all-nighter to cram for your Econ exam, getting out of bed to trek to yet another lecture can leave you feeling on the brink of having a mid-week nervous breakdown. And who wouldn’t be in such a mindset when they have a month’s worth of work to accomplish in a week? 

I’m going to let you in on something: making yourself a prisoner of the library, in the long run, might not be as effective as you think. And you might even end up getting burnt out. When you get in a rut, taking a break and getting some Vitamin D is often more efficient than trying to push through the mental block. That is, getting out of your head, and instead getting outside might allow you to tap into a better headspace. In turn, you may find that you’re more concentrated, productive, and creative. 

For a long time now, scientists and researchers have been discussing how getting outdoors can positively affect us in several ways. For students, getting outdoors regularly could be key to performing at the highest potential. 

Getting Outside Enhances Focus & Concentration

Having trouble focusing on that 10-page research paper? Leave your study space for a few minutes and go take a walk around campus, walk into town, or simply go sit outside and people-watch. Studies show that being in nature or just being outside can help to improve and restore focus and concentration.

Spending Time in Nature Reduces Stress & Anxiety

When you’re stressed, it’s often difficult to focus on one task and actually finish. You may have different thoughts running through your brain, distracting you and slowing you down. Maybe it’s midterms, and you’ve got eight different exams to study for. So you might be getting ready to grind, grind, and grind. The thing is, trying to solely through your stress might not be your best plan of attack. 

Research has shown that getting outdoors (even better, getting outdoors and moving around) can improve your mental and emotional wellness. As a result, you’ll probably be in a better headspace to finish your work. 

One study found that when participants spent time in a forest, they had decreased heart rates and cortisol levels compared to those who spent time in a city. This decrease in physiological activity highlights lower stress levels.

Another study found that exposure to nature was negatively associated with anxiety and bad moods.  On the flipside, exposure to nature (including being near water and exercising outdoors) resulted in increased self-esteem and mood. 

This is probably partially due to the way in which Vitamin D is associated with reducing depression and anxiety. Another potential reason is that humans may have an innate drive to connect with nature. This is called the Biophilia Hypothesis, which stems from the fact that our ancestors evolved in natural settings, utilizing environmental resources for survival. 

Stripping away negative thoughts by going outside may very well be a key strategy to doubling down, finishing that study guide, and nailing your exam. 

Being Outdoors May Improve Memory

It can be incredibly frustrating to spend hours studying terms, concepts, and equations that you’re supposed to memorize, just to realize that it keeps going in one ear and out the other. This may be particularly relevant to those trying to master a foreign language, since there are so many irregular verbs and types of clauses to know. When you’re dealing with that sheer volume of complex information, it’s challenging to drill it all in. 

Simply taking a short break from your deep Quizlet dive may help boost your memory. A study on the effect of scenic walks on cognition tested this theory. Researchers gave the students a cognitive task, after which they either went for a walk in an arboretum or down a busy street. After returning, they completed the cognitive task again. Results showed that those who walked in the forest did roughly 20% better than they did the first time. Additionally, participants who walked down the city street didn’t consistently improve. 

Researchers have also found that after your focus is depleted, a walk in nature is more effective for completing cognitive tasks compared to a walk through the city.

Getting a Vitamin D Boost Stimulates Energy

After staying up into the hours of dawn, trying to get back to work the next day can feel impossible. However, going outside can help even the most drudging sleep deprivation rut. 

In fact, research from the University of Rochester found that you can increase your energy by engaging in outdoor activities. This may be simply taking a stroll around your campus, jogging, or a quick frisbee game.

Having a beloved gym is great. But exercising in the open air seems far more rewarding (considering all the benefits of simply being outside). Plus, if you’re a runner, many campuses have trails, scenic paths, and places to explore. Use this to your advantage. Take a break—even if it’s short—and give your body that much-needed natural dopamine, while exploring your campus!

Spending Time Outside Triggers Creativity

Almost anyone can empathize with writer’s block struggle. The appalling feeling of staring at your screen for what feels like hours, unable to write a sentence? Yep, we’ve all been there. 

Take a pause on this, because you’re probably fooling yourself thinking this train is going somewhere. Instead, take a break and go outside. Time and time again, researchers demonstrate that being outdoors significantly boosts creativity. 

A 2012 study determined that after four days hiking in nature in conjunction with a disconnection from technology, participants were significantly more capable of tapping into their creativity. Take a break from your screen, your books, and that familiar library smell; change up the scenery and head to the sun!

A college campus packed with activities, hidden spots, and friends is an ideal place to utilize the power of nature. Explore the nooks and crannies on your campus and in turn, give your brain the chance to refresh. 

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