For many of us, we feel so much more alive when we’re out in nature. Whether it’s hiking or biking or being on the beach or in a field. Something about the fresh air and escaping the concrete of the modern world changes the way we feel and act. It just makes us happier. But why? And how?
There is an emerging body of research that shows that access to fresh air and wildlife can provide tangible health benefits. What’s more surprising, perhaps, is that these benefits seem to go beyond those of exercise or sun exposure.
Can Nature Help You Get Back on Track?
Being surrounded by nature can radically alter our mood and improve our health. These are the seven major perks that you can get from spending some time in nature.
1. Lowering stress levels
Being surrounded by nature can instantly lower our stress levels. Until recently, it was believed that this happened because being outdoors goes hand in hand with exercise, which is also good for lowering stress. However, it now seems that even exercising in green spaces provides an additional type of “psychological restoration” that you don’t get from a treadmill or a city gym.
2. Increasing immunity
In Japan, the practice of Shinrin-yoku refers to going to a nearby forest, not to hike or collect plants, but simply to take deep breaths. This practice has now been linked to healthier immune systems: apparently, it can help increase your body’s production of several key immune cells, such as immunoglobulin A.
3. Helping communication
The secret to peaceful town life is not in its houses and amenities but its parks. This was observed in the Netherlands, where researchers examined social relationships and the feeling of “community cohesion” across 80 different neighborhoods in four cities.
They found that communities that enjoyed many nearby green spaces, and where people made a habit of visiting them, enjoyed stronger and more neighborly relationships.
4. Speeding up healing
Even having access to a small piece of nature, tucked inside a pot, can help us recover from injury or a surgical procedure. In this study, researchers examined the effects of placing real potted plants, synthetic plants, or no plants in hospital rooms. They found that patients who were placed in rooms with plants recovered faster and required less medication for pain.
5. Staving off heart disease
Another interesting finding of the same study had to do with heart health. The group of patients who had plants in their rooms also had lower blood pressure, on average. While this may not appear important over a few days, it can bring major benefits for the long term: it will lower your chances of developing heart disease.
6. Lowering pain levels
Hints about the powerful effects of green spaces had already been spotted back in 1984. In this pilot study, an epidemiologist compared the outcomes of patients who had recently undergone a cholecystectomy (a type of abdominal surgery). He observed that patients whose rooms had a view to the nearby park took fewer painkillers, and even got along with nurses better.
7. Improving focus and performance
If your list of daily chores ever makes it hard to squeeze in a trip to the park, remember this: the time you spend closer to nature can help you make your working hours more productive. The combination of lower stress levels, less pain, and the general contentedness that the outdoors provide can improve your ability to focus.
This has been tested both with office workers and among children with ADHD: taking a stroll in the park, as opposed to walking down a busy street, will help you concentrate and clear that afternoon “brain fog”.
Is your Dose of Nature Enough?
It’s easy to feel excited about all the possible benefits we listed. However, not all of us may be ready to start camping every other weekend.
Fortunately, this isn’t necessary. Just try to squeeze in a little bit of greenery into your daily routine by visiting a local park or even sunbathing in your own yard. According to this study from Nature Magazine, just two hours a week in “natural restorative environments” is enough to make it work.
But if you’d rather get lost in the woods for a whole weekend, just make sure to pack enough snacks!