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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul,” famed naturalist John Muir wrote in 1912.

Long before Americans started spending so much of their days indoors, staring at a laptop or smartphone, the Sierra Club founder and national park advocate understood the stress-relieving properties of nature.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) surveyed 9,000 Americans and found they were spending 87 percent of their time indoors. And studies have found that lack of outdoor time is associated with higher incidence of depression.

The researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to those who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a part of the brain associated with depression.

An estimated 43.4 million adults in the U.S. — nearly 18 percent of the population — had a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in 2015, from mild to severe, the National Institute of Mental Health reports.

The physical health benefits of getting up off the couch, away from the screen and out the door have long been known. But what about the impact on our emotions and mental health?

Here are five ways that spending time in the great outdoors could improve your mental well-being:

1. Change your body chemistry for a better mood.   

Breathing fresh air can raise levels of oxygen in your brain, which in turn boosts the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that alters your mood.  

In addition, exercising outdoors – such as hiking, running, biking and kayaking – increases the production of endorphins. Like serotonin, these neurotransmitters are mood boosters. They create the sensation often referred to as “runner’s high.” Higher endorphin levels can leave you feeling calm and clear-headed.

2. Lower your risk of depression

A Stanford University study found that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to those who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a part of the brain associated with depression.

Another study looked at the Japanese tradition of forest bathing, or “Shinrinyoku.” That’s the practice of making short, leisurely visits to a forest. The research demonstrated that a forest bathing trip may significantly reduce anxiety, depression and anger, among other benefits.

3. Alleviate stress at work.

A South Korean study found that simply having a view of a forest from office windows improved job satisfaction and lowered workday stress. 

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4. Help you sleep better.

In addition to affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins, which help you relax, being outdoors exposes you to natural light. Light exposure, in turn, affects the hormone melatonin. When we’re in sunlight, the melatonin in our bodies decreases. This helps us wake up in the morning. In the absence of sunlight, our melatonin levels rise, making us sleepy or lethargic. Getting sunlight at the right time of day can lead to a better night’s sleep.

Vitamin D, which your body can get from sunlight, might also have a role in mood and relaxation.

And a good night’s sleep can boost your mental health.

5. Give your brain much-needed downtime. 

A study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that spending time in nature helped people leave stress behind and focus on simpler, more refreshing thoughts. This gives the brain – like our bodies – a chance to unwind. 

Even if your time is limited, try to fit in a brief walk outdoors at the beginning or end of your day, or during your lunch break. And consider changing your habits. Instead of reaching for your phone or the TV remote at home, visit a local park or nearby forest. 

Your mind — and soul — will thank you.