3 Science-Backed Benefits of Getting Off Your Butt (And Into Nature)

Two women sitting in nature, by a lake overlooking Mt. Hood in Oregon

These days, we spend the majority of our waking hours sitting on our backsides, staring at screens. (Upwards of 11 hours per day, apparently.) But as it turns out, your Grandma was onto something with all those “fresh air will do you good” lectures. Research suggests that it’s important to spend time in nature, and doing so is beneficial — perhaps even essential — for our mental and physical health. 

As summer marches on in the Pacific Northwest, we’re examining the evidence that nature makes us healthier, happier people. Below, three science-backed reasons to get off your butt and go enjoy Mother Nature:  

Twenty minutes outdoors is all it takes to boost your physical and mental well-being. 

Immersing yourself in nature for two hours every week has significant health benefits, according to a study published in the Journal Scientific Reports

People who spent 120 minutes a week in “green spaces” reported a significant increase in both their mental and physical well-being, compared to those who didn’t go outdoors. (No need to head for the mountains, btw. An urban park counts as a green space.) The participants didn’t need to spend that time exercising, either—as long as they were outdoors, immersed in natured, they experienced a boost in their overall well-being. 

Even better, the two hours could be spread out throughout the week. Bottom line: As little as 20 minutes outdoors per day is all it takes to see health benefits. 

Other studies show that immersing yourself in natural surroundings can decrease cortisol levels—AKA the stress hormone—and lower systolic blood pressure and heart rate. 

Going outdoors can help ease anxiety and depression. 

According to recent research, exposure to green spaces can help ease anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.  

One study showed that strolls through the forest increased self-esteem while decreasing anxiety and negative emotions. In another, nature walks reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain that’s active during rumination. (Rumination is what happens when you get down or anxious. It’s the process of continuously thinking the same thoughts, which tend to be sad and dark.) When people feel stressed or depressed, the prefrontal cortex malfunctions, and they may experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts.

In the study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people who walked for 90 minutes. Half the participants strolled through a natural setting with trees and shrubs, while the other half took a jaunt through an urban environment. The nature walkers showed decreases in cycling thoughts and activity in their prefrontal cortices, while the urban walkers did not. 

Looking out through the trees at Crater Lake, OR

Nature may increase creativity, mental energy, and focus.

Nature is the most abundant source of beauty and inspiration available to us. Is it any surprise that it enhances our creativity? One study found that people who immersed themselves in nature for four days were able to boost their performance on a creative problem-solving test by a whopping 50%.

Similarly, nature might have a “restorative” effect on our attention spans and mental energy. In another, researchers examined participants’ ability to focus. They sent some people on a hike through nature, others on an urban stroll, and instructed the rest to relax. When everyone returned, the nature group outperformed the others on a proofreading task.  

Nature’s attention-restoring effect might even extend to kids with ADHD: children’s symptoms have been found to improve after a 20 walk through the park.

While the research is compelling, we hope these insights encourage you to go outside and experience the benefits of nature firsthand. Summer is waiting!

Looking for more summer reading? Discover five common skincare bummers, and how to solve them.

5 Summer Skin Bummers (And How to Solve Them)

Just because you love summertime doesn’t mean it loves you back. Whether it’s through sun, sweltering heat, or swarms of insects, summer can wreak serious havoc on your skin. You don’t have to sequester yourself indoors, though—just take our dermatologist-approved advice for solving your biggest summer skincare bummers. 

Bummer #1: Sunburn 

Let’s face it—during the summertime, sun exposure is inevitable. To prevent a burn, you should always (and we mean always) wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Apply protection at least 20 minutes before you go outdoors, making sure to cover some oft-missed areas: nostrils, ears, the area around your armpits, and on the tops of your feet and toes. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, consider wearing a hat for additional sun protection. 

If you do slip up and get burned, use an ice compress to soothe inflammation and cool your skin. You can also slather on an aftersun lotion with aloe, and pop a couple Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Although many people try, your topical hydrocortisone cream does little to hasten the redness or the pain. If you’re not able to get relief at home, see a doctor immediately. 

Bummer #2: Poison Oak and Poison Ivy

Hiking is one of our favorite summertime activities, but it can lead to a brush with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. These pesky plants are coated in a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol—when it touches your skin, it causes a red, itchy, blistering rash. 

If you do come into contact with poisonous plants this summer, wash the area right away with soap and water. Next, treat the pain and irritation with ice-cold compresses and over-the-counter topical treatments, such as calamine lotion. While plant rashes usually resolve on their own within a few weeks, they can be extremely uncomfortable. Talk to your doctor if you have a severe reaction, or if a rash appears on your face or genitals. If you’re super miserable, a prescription for an oral steroid like prednisone might be necessary. 

As for prevention: Be aware of your surroundings, and if possible, keep your skin covered. We suggest wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and closed shoes if you’re hiking in areas where poisonous plants grow.  

Bummer #3: Bug Bites

Reality bites—and inevitably, during the summertime, so do bugs. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and close-toed shoes will help prevent insect bites and stings, but if you spend enough time outdoors, bites are bound to happen.  

Most bug bites are more than an irritating itch—they’re actually an allergic reaction to bug’s saliva, causing inflammation, redness, and swelling. Gross, right? 

We know it’s darn-near impossible, but—if the bugs do bite this summer—try your best not to scratch. Scratching creates tiny openings in your skin, allowing for bacteria and infection to make their way in. Instead, clean the affected area with soap and water, then apply a hydrocortisone cream to the bite. This will reduce redness, itching, and decrease inflammation. You can also try at-home topical remedies like aloe vera and oatmeal. 

Bummer #4: Acne 

Acne happens all year round, but people tend to break out more in the summertime. Why? When it’s hot outside, your body produces more oil, and you sweat more. Lots of sweat + oil = acne. (There’s also all the sunscreen we’ve been urging you to apply, which—while nonnegotiable—can contribute to breakouts.)

Regardless of where acne pops up, the treatment is relatively the same. Cleanse the affected area daily with a gentle face or body wash that contains glycolic or salicylic acid. You might also want to switch up your skincare routine, too—using oil-free makeup and sunscreen will ensure you don’t further clog pores. 

Bummer #5: Folliculitis

As you probably already know, every hair on your body grows out of an opening called a follicle. If follicles become infected, you develop folliculitis—itchy, acne-like eruptions that are commonly found on shoulders, legs, and thighs. 

Because bacteria love warm, moist, dark conditions, it’s super easy to contract this infection during the summer months—especially if you frequently wear workout clothes or spandex. Tight clothing compresses the hair follicle, making bacteria more likely to grow there. 

To prevent folliculitis, shower and change your clothes right after a workout. If you’re prone to breakouts, avoid wearing tight, non-breathable fabric like spandex in the summer. If you do develop folliculitis, it’ll likely clear up in a few days with basic self-care measures. However, if it persists, be sure to contact your dermatologist—more severe cases may require prescription medication. 

Woman holding a phone with information about ZOOM+Care Dermatology. Zoom is perfect for summer skin issues.

When to call a dermatologist

While these summer skin problems are definitely bummers, they’re usually not serious. Most go away in a few days to a few weeks, but—if a rash or other skin problem persists—we’re here for you. Schedule a dermatology visit today. 

Happy 4th of July! Follow These Fireworks Safety Tips so You Won’t Have Come and See Us

It’s almost the 4th of July, which for most of us means one thing, and one thing only: fireworks.  

While fireworks are fun to watch (and even more fun to light), it’s easy to forget how dangerous these 4th of July favorites can be. Last year, 9,100 people went to U.S. ­emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

It’s not just fireworks that send people to the ER, either. Believe it or not, sparklers—another 4th of July staple, especially among small children—were the #1 cause of Independence Day injuries. 

To help you get through the holiday with all your limbs intact, we’re rounding up some firework safety tips. Put these to good use, and you can avoid paying us a visit this 4th of July. 

  • First things first: Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying them. (And before you use them, you might want to brush up on your local fireworks laws.) 
  • Wear safety glasses when lighting fireworks. Seriously, we want you to keep both of your eyeballs! 
  • Don’t let young children play with or light fireworks. Just, don’t. 
  •  Never (repeat, never) point or throw fireworks at another human being. 
  • If you decide to let your children play with sparklers, always have an adult supervise them.  
  • Firework not ignite fully? Don’t try to pick it up or re-light it. 
  • Light one firework at a time. After lighting the fuse, move back—quickly!
  • Never lean your body over fireworks while lighting them. 
  • Be prepared. Keep a hose or a bucket of water close by, just in case things go awry. 
  •  Don’t shoot fireworks off in metal or glass containers.
  • Some asthmatics are sensitive to the smoke that fireworks produce which can result in asthma attacks. Stand back a safe distance and be careful not to inhale firework smoke.
  • Ah yes, booze and dangerous explosives—perhaps not the safest combination. Be responsible with alcohol while lighting fireworks.
  •  Once you’re done, douse the fireworks with plenty of water, then dispose of them in a metal trash can.
  • Your safest option? Leave it to the professionals and attend a fireworks display. 

Now that we’ve lectured you about firework safety, go fourth (er, forth) and have a safe, fun-filled 4th of July! 

If you do experience a firework fail this 4th of July, we’re here for you. Schedule a visit at our Super clinic—we’re open ‘til midnight on the 4th, and can treat 80% of the reasons that adults and kids go to the Emergency Room. Even better? We can do it for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.

Looking for Hay Fever Hacks? Try These 12 Preventative Measures

Woman with dark hair sneezing.

Allergy season is here, and it came bearing gifts: watery eyes, scratchy throats, and uncontrollable bouts of sneezing, for starters. Whether you’ve struggled with pollen allergies your whole life or you’re feeling the effects for the first time (thanks to a particularly hellish season), there are ways to minimize your symptoms. Snuff out the sniffles with these tried-and-true hay fever hacks, vetted by our board certified care leaders:

► Filter your air.
Invest in a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to trap pollen and provide allergy relief. Place it wherever you spend the most time, like your bedroom.

► Switch up your routine. Don’t bring allergens to bed with you. Shower at night so pollen winds up down the drain—not sticking to your sheets.

► Block it out. Wear sunglasses to keep allergens from getting into your eyes.

►Put Fido in the doghouse. Pet fur is a pollen magnet. Keep your four-legged friend off your bed to help reduce your exposure.

► And give him a bath, too.  Be sure to brush or wash your pet after they’ve been outdoors.

► Suck it up. Regularly vacuum your home, including curtains, drapes, bedding, and furniture.

► Don’t line dry. Avoid hanging sheets and clothes outside to dry. You’ll wind up capturing unwanted allergens and bringing them into your home.

► Mask it. When you clean, you kick allergens up into the air. During housework, wear a dust mask to limit your exposure.

► Mow? Just say no. Mowing your lawn is a great way to stir up pollen. If you can’t pay the kid next door to do it, wear a mask when you mow to protect your nose and eyes.

► Watch the weather. Keep an eye on the pollen count, and stay indoors on dry, windy days. Pro tip: A great time to go outside is right after it rains.

 Change it up. Been outdoors? To avoid spreading allergens around your home, leave your shoes at the front door and change your clothes as soon you get inside.

► Use a damp cloth when cleaning. Use damp, single-wipe dust rags to clean. A damp rag will trap allergens instead of knocking them into the air.  If you use reusable cleaning clothes, be sure to wash them in hot water after every use.

Looking for more allergy facts, hacks, and treatments? Find out how Zoom can help.

Health Hack: Hate Your Job? Say These 3 Things to Feel Better

Your boss is unbearable, the work is beneath you, the money sucks… we’re hearing a lot of people wallowing in work stress these days. You too?

To help you enjoy the rest of your life, we tracked down Erik Vanderlip, MD, Psychiatrist and Mental Health Team Lead at ZOOM+Care and got some advice on diffusing work stress at the end of the day.

Continue reading “Health Hack: Hate Your Job? Say These 3 Things to Feel Better”

Health Hack: 3 Menstrual Cup Tips Our GYN Wants You to Know

Like most users, we female Zoom staffers love our economical, eco-friendly, ultra-convenient menstrual cups. But we’ll admit they can be frustrating and messy at first. ZOOM+Care GYN Megan Zaander, MD, has some share-worthy hacks. Continue reading “Health Hack: 3 Menstrual Cup Tips Our GYN Wants You to Know”

Health Hack: The One Time a Doc Will Tell You to Blow-Dry Your Penis

Proud owner of a foreskin? The day may come when it gets red, itchy, and inflamed. If it does, you’re gonna want to know which household appliance to reach for. Continue reading “Health Hack: The One Time a Doc Will Tell You to Blow-Dry Your Penis”