The Surprising Ways Fresh Air Improves Your Physical Health

Getting outside isn't just beneficial for your mood. It's good for your body, too.

Woman hiking in forest
Photo: SeventyFour / Getty Images

While you may intuitively know that you feel healthier after a walk in the woods, a day at the beach, or a post-dinner neighborhood stroll, research has shown that fresh air has measurable health benefits. And they aren't just a result of the extra activity that often comes with time outside, or the unconscious de-stressing that happens when humans engage with nature—although those improve your overall health, too. The physical improvements associated with the great outdoors include more energy, easier breathing, and overall immune health. Ahead, we outline exactly how fresh air boosts your physical wellness.

A Healthier Heart and Lungs

Your home is full of indoor air pollutants that you might not even be aware of: scented candles, cooking-related particles, incense, pet dander, dust mites, and other allergens. "Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air—the problem is that because the pollutants are common, we don't think of them as health risks," says Dr. Gary Adamkiewicz, associate professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Anything associated with burning something releases pollutants into the air. The other big category is chemicals, including anything associated with cleaning products—people want to believe they are freshening the air, but they can release chemicals that are a problem for respiratory health."

Increasing the amount of time you spend outside, then, has long-term benefits for your lung and cardiovascular health, says Dr. Adamkiewicz; minimizing your exposure to pollutants decreases the stress on your heart and circulatory system. (If you can't get outside as much as you'd like to, bring some nature in—open the windows or turn on a fan to dilute and refresh your indoor air.)

Increased Blood Oxygen Levels

Every time you breathe in, the hemoglobin in red blood cells captures oxygen in your bloodstream, moving it throughout the body to fuel every process within your system, from basic cell repair to brain function and digestion, notes Dr. Adamkiewicz. Extremely low levels of oxygen can cause headaches, shortness of breath, confusion, and a racing heartbeat—but a boost of oxygen can help clear your head, improve focus, and give you a natural jolt of energy. Stepping outside is one of the quickest and easiest ways to up your blood oxygen level immediately, which is why you feel so much more able to focus on an afternoon meeting after eating lunch in the park instead of at your desk.

Better Sleep and Healthier Bones

While sunshine and fresh air are technically two different things, it's nearly impossible to avoid the health benefits of natural light once you get outside. Spending more time outside helps keep your circadian rhythms on their natural cycle, improving your sleep-wake times and leading to more restful nights. UVB light from the sun also increases levels of vitamin D, a nutrient that allows your body to process calcium for bone health and also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties that support immune health, muscle function, and brain cell activity, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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