- A new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion says just a couple hours spent outdoors can influence your food choices, getting you to consume more produce and diversify your healthy bites.
- Those that exercise outdoors experience an even greater connection to nature and therefore, a higher consumption of fruits and veggies.
A new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggests that even a couple hours per week of getting outside can significantly boost not just your fruit and vegetable consumption, but also the diversity of your healthy food choices.
Researchers surveyed 317 adults living in Philadelphia to measure their connection to nature, along with the foods and beverages they’d consumed the previous day. The results showed that those who spent more time outdoors and had a positive perspective about nature ate a more varied diet, and particularly more fruits and vegetables compared to those without that connection.
This is in line with decades of previous research, according to lead author Brandy-Joe Milliron, Ph.D., associate professor of Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. She told Bicycling that previous studies show a breadth of health advantages with outdoor time, including better focus, improved cognition, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure.
“We don’t know the mechanisms quite yet, but the take-home message is that spending time in nature is associated with all sorts of health benefits, and our emerging research suggests it may also influence our food-related choices,” she said.
Although the exact mechanism hasn’t been pinpointed, Milliron added that previous studies have shown that intentional interaction with nature—which means actually, physically going outside—is very different in its effect than looking out a window or appreciating a photo of nature, and that includes healthy eating.
It’s that intentional interaction—and not necessarily living in green space or how frequently you get outside—that tends to be significant, she added. For example, the recent study polled those who lived in a large city and still found advantages. However, Milliron said that issues of inequities in terms of access to green spaces could be a concern, especially when it comes to a deeper examination of the factors around healthy eating motivation, social justice, and food availability.
One aspect of getting outside that is well-established: Outdoor exercise can boost healthy food choices even more than just hanging in the great outdoors, she added. In the study, participants who met the national physical activity guidelines—defined as 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity weekly—reported higher overall connection to nature and the most fruit and vegetable consumption, which means the more you exercise outside, the more likely you are to lean into healthy eating.
“We also know that for many people, health behaviors cluster,” Milliron said. As those behaviors stack—getting outside, riding more often, choosing healthy foods—they tend to keep on layering, such as pursuing greater de-stress strategies, not smoking, moderating alcohol, and getting quality sleep.
Sometimes, all it takes is one keystone habit that creates a basis for the rest, and Milliron suggested fresh air could build the foundation for an overall healthy lifestyle.