Humans seem to know instinctively that spending time outdoors is good for us. We are naturally drawn to activities such as hiking, spending time in parks, gardening, etc. As kids, we are all familiar with asking our parents if we could "go outside and play” when we were young. And this is all with great reason. Our bodies know that being outside helps not only our mental state but our physical one as well. Spending time outdoors has been proven to lower stress levels and increase positive feelings. Still, now more and more studies are coming out where science is proving that it is good for our bodies as well, and specifically, our gut microbiomes. So let’s dig in a little further and learn more about how exactly spending time outdoors can help all of those amazing bacteria that make up our digestive systems.
So what exactly is a microbiome? Your gut microbiome is the population of good gut bacterias that are living in your intestine. You can think of their diversity as rainforests, with all different kinds of species that thrive in the right environment and work together. According to datavsdisease.com, "Approximately 100 trillion microbes live in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract alone, mostly within the large intestine. These microbes are collectively referred to as the gut microbiome and can be thought of as separate, multi-functional organs within the body. The development of the gut microbiome begins at birth when a newborn baby’s GI tract is first exposed to microbes in the vaginal birth canal. However, emerging evidence suggests babies may come into contact with microbes even earlier while in the womb."
Back to what all of this has to do with spending time outdoors and how doing so could benefit our gut health. Well, spending time outdoors has proven to be one of the easiest ways to increase your microbial diversity naturally. Simply being around different types of bacteria that exist in plants, soil & trees while being outside gives you exposure to all sorts of microbes that can benefit your microbiome. This can contribute to why people just "feel so good" after spending time outdoors. Their body just got a dose of some healthy bacteria just by being in nature, along with proven lowered stress levels and, if you happened to break a sweat while outdoors, some movement-supported microbial health boost as well. Side note, according to hyperbotics.com, "Exercise increases the populations of beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract by up to 40%, so the more you’re moving around outside, the better." Even more reason to get outside and throw a little movement in there while you’re at it.
Science is also showing that your microbiome and your immune system also have a close relationship. 80% of your immune system is actually located in your gut, so the healthier your gut microbiome is, the better your immunity tends to be, and vice versa. Part of this has to do with your body being calm enough to switch into “rest and digest” mode, which it does when you’re relaxed and surrounded by nature. When your body gets into this mode, it can focus on bodily functions that tend to get shoved to the side when you’re stressed and your system is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol.
Hopefully, this inspires you to spend some time outside today. Try taking a short walk around the block in the morning, your lunch break on a park bench, or heck, if those aren’t possible, even looking at a houseplant while working from home can have a positive benefit for your mental and physical body. If you can regularly garden or take the time to go on hikes, even better, but if you're only able to do something small such as stand in some grass (remember to take your shoes off) for 3 minutes at a time, anything is better than nothing. And you will feel better for it! Your gut microbiome will thank you.