Spring is definitely knocking on the door – I’ve got blue skies, sun and daffodils outside the window right now. Fortunately the return to warmer, and longer days means that more people are venturing outside to exercise rather than staying at home or going to the gym.
Why is this a good thing? Well, because getting outside in nature can help our overall health, including our gut health.
How does being in nature benefit our overall health?
There are several ways in which spending time outside each day can be beneficial for our health:
- getting early morning sunlight is know to help reset our circadian rhythm (our internal body clock) and boost vitamin D levels in the summer. Note: our shadow needs to be shorter than us for vitamin D benefits, so sadly this won’t be happening for another few months in the UK
- regularly spending time outdoors has been shown to have a positive influence on both our mental and our immune health
- studies have also shown that it can reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and boost memory
How can getting outside benefit gut health?
A number of studies have shown that spending time outside – ideally getting a bit hands-on with trees, plants, soil etc. – can increase the number and diversity of beneficial gut and skin bacteria. It seems that by exposing ourselves to the microorganisms present around us we can, in turn, boost our own beneficial bacteria.
Unfortunately, life in the modern world offers few opportunities to interact with nature unless we make a concerted effort to do so. Even when outside, I know that I’m often guilty of keeping gloves on and hands in my pockets when it’s cold or raining.
Add a tendency to stay inside or keep hands from touching nature, to a sub-optimal diet and a few courses of antibiotics over our lifetimes and it’s not surprising that about 40% of the UK population experience unwanted digestive symptoms such as bloating and gas.
Ideas for getting closer to nature
As well as taking a walk and not being afraid to touch the things you pass, other ways for us to explore the benefits of nature include forest bathing, wild swimming and nature watching. Or why not take your usual indoor activity and practice it in the garden instead?
You could also:
- plant some herb seeds to have on the kitchen windowsill
- if you have children, go for a nature walk and aim to collect 20 things – a pine cone, a feather, a yellow leaf etc.
- go foraging for wild food – right now nettles are starting to appear, wild garlic will be with us soon
- climb a tree or build a den!
Interacting with nature rather than observing it from afar is the key. Get dirty, have a good time, and enhance your good bacteria all at the same time.
Brame J.E. et al. (2021) The potential of outdoor environments to supply beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria to humans. Science of the Total Environment. 777:146063. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146063
Haahtela T. (2019) A biodiversity hypothesis. Allergy, 74(8) pp.1445-1456. doi: 10.1111/all.13763
Roslund M.I. et al. (2020) Biodiversity intervention enhances immune regulation and health-associated commensal microbiota among daycare children. Science Advances, 6(42). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aba2578
Sobko T. et al. (2020) Impact of outdoor nature-related activities on gut microbiota, fecal serotonin, and perceived stress in preschool children: the Play&Grow randomized controlled trial. Scientific reports, 10(1), 21993. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-78642-2