Wellness Benefits of Outdoor Living Spaces

After a long and harsh winter, it’s finally the outdoor season! More hours of daylight means enjoying evenings outdoors with friends and family. Entertaining is easy and relaxed. If you have your own porch, deck, balcony, yard, or patio, these are the ideal months to enjoy the outdoors at home.

A covered porch with comfortable chairs hosts neighborhood gatherings. Photo courtesy of Decorators // Well-being by design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

Maybe your outdoor living space could use a few upgrades, and the money you didn’t spend on a vacation last year is going to an improvement project this year. This can have excellent returns for your well-being and your wallet; exterior improvements have the potential to increase the value of your property and certainly your enjoyment of it in the meantime.

Nature connection

“Spending time in nature has many benefits,” shared California-based psychologist Folsom. Forrest Talley, Ph.D. in Wellness by design (Tiller Press, 2020). “These include reducing levels of cortisol (a hormone that rises under stress and causes faster aging); boosting the immune system; lowering blood pressure; improving memory function; decreasing anxiety and creating a sense of well-being.

If your only outdoor space is a balcony, add planters filled with local greenery for a touch of nature in the city. Photo courtesy of Member Company Cotto d’Este/Ceramics of Italy // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

Perhaps your surroundings are completely urban, with no trees or grass in sight. Consider adding your own greenery with native plants in decorative pots, raised beds, green walls or trellis installations. Consult a gardening professional to see what will grow best in your space, or take a gardening course yourself.

biophilic healing

Other ways to add nature to your home are to hang wind chimes and bird feeders and add decorative elements that evoke flora or fauna. The addition of these representations inspired by nature is a component of biophilia. Medical studies have shown that even biophilic portrayals (rather than reality, if unavailable or impractical), can help with stress reduction, pain management, and recovery in hospitalized patients.

These depictions can be decorative outdoor cushions with your favorite animals printed on them, an outdoor animal print rug, a floral candle, a bowl of seashells, or any other nature-inspired outdoor decoration that evokes happy memories, relaxing moments, or dream vacation.

Outdoor fitness

After being cooped up inside all winter, with bad weather and a brutal pandemic, it’s nice to do your workouts outside. AS, one of the leading certification programs for personal trainers, shares these benefits of exercising outdoors: 1. Improved mood and reduced depression; 2. Improved self-esteem; 3. Low cost; 4. Ease of Access and 5. Connection with Mother Nature.

The ease of access is especially useful when doing short workouts during your lunch break or your youngster’s nap. The opportunity to step outside your door to exercise in the fresh air can be a mood and energy boost.

Consider adding a padded mat for high impact workouts on hard floors like porcelain tile. Photo courtesy of member company Panaria Ceramica/Ceramics of Italy // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

A few wellness design considerations to keep in mind when exercising outdoors:

  • What fitness equipment will withstand regular outdoor use and where will you easily store it between workouts?
  • Do you want to add privacy with an exterior screen or drapery panels?
  • Want to cushion your floor with a mat to protect your feet and joints?
  • If your space and workout times are going to be hot and sunny, do you want to add a fan and possibly a sunshade?
  • Will your speaker disturb any of your neighbors or members of your household while they are working, sleeping or studying?
  • Are insect bites likely to be a problem outdoors? Consider a zapper that fits your space and budget.

Outdoor cooking and dining

One of the great pleasures of this time of year is food cooked and enjoyed outdoors (adjective, made or eaten outdoors). Your cooking equipment choices include the trusty built-in or portable grill, but they can go much further. There are also side burners for searing and cooking side dishes and warming drawers for latecomers.

Grilled foods — especially fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats — can be tasty, light, and nutritious. Just be careful not to burn your starches or your meats to avoid a potential health risk, advise the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

outdoor pizza oven and grill

Outdoor pizza ovens are great for creating healthy meals and dinners. Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

Outdoor pizza ovens, whether built-in or freestanding, have become very popular and can help you have a healthy pizza night. There are also outdoor refrigerators, ice makers, and wine captains for healthy gatherings.

If your grill is in a semi-enclosed outdoor space, you’re going to want (or need) a ventilation hood. Although not required by local code, a properly sized and located unit can help keep shifting winds from blowing cooking smoke onto your guests. Screens are also useful for keeping insects away from your cooking and dining areas. Some are designed to retract when not in use or be virtually invisible when in use.

It is worth consulting a local outdoor kitchen professional Where landscape architect to find the layout, equipment, finishes and furniture suited to your space, your style, your comfort and your level of investment.

Outdoor relaxation

Nights can still be chilly in some areas and having an outdoor fire pit, fire table or chimney can extend the use of your outdoor space during cooler seasons. If that’s not an option, choose a large outdoor blanket that you can snuggle up under.

Outdoor patio with seating and fire pit

Fire tables can extend your outdoor comfort during the cooler hours and seasons. Photo courtesy of SCG CERAMICS PUBLIC COMPANY LIMITED / GEOLUXE® // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

Another comfort feature to consider is exterior lighting. Some options require a power supply, like most lanterns and ceiling lights, and some don’t. These can be easier to install and can include solar powered path lights (for safety) and string lights for entertainment. There are always candlelights for romantic evenings or relaxing solo sessions. Just make sure the stand provides stability and wind protection so it doesn’t start a fire.

People with allergies often have a harder time enjoying the outdoors at this time of year. The Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions for people with seasonal allergies:

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go out is after a good rain, which helps remove pollen from the air.
  • Avoid outdoor activities early in the morning when pollen counts are highest.
  • Wear a pollen mask if you do outdoor chores.
  • Check your local television or radio station, local newspaper, or the Internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.
  • If a high pollen count is expected, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms appear.
terrace with chairs overlooking the mountains

Science says views of nature can improve your health and healing. Photo courtesy of Deckorators; deckorators.com // Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020, © J. Gold)

Final Thoughts

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright had his own ideas about outdoor living. This quote from the master appeared at the end of Well-being by design: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. You will never miss it.

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, Wellness Design Consultant, and author of three books on design and remodeling. The last, Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness, and Happiness, (Tiller Press) published September 2020. You can catch Jamie’s WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS at the Clubhouse the first and third week of the month at 1 p.m. Pacific/4 p.m. Eastern.