The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Being in Nature
Nature has a profound impact on our mental and physical health. I experience this daily living in the mountains of Southern California, immersed in natural beauty and surrounded by wildlife. I also experienced the direct contrast of living in nature because I spent 18 years of my life in downtown Chicago...a flat concrete and high-rise jungle packed with people and constant noise. It was normal for me growing up - I knew nothing different. After spending a few several decades in immersed in topography and beautiful, quiet nature, I would never go back to the hustle and bustle of city life. As I lay out in this article, nature has a profound effect on our mental and physical health.
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase overall well-being:
- Stress Reducer: Studies have found that spending time in nature can reduce stress hormone levels and lower blood pressure - a welcome decrease in overall stress and anxiety levels. One study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that just 20 minutes of exposure to nature can significantly lower stress. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. I know that I feel very relaxed after walking in nature or sitting on a beach staring at the ocean. (Source)
- Mood Booster: Spending time in nature has been linked to an increase in positive emotions, such as happiness and contentment. Anti-depression trees? This may be due to the calming and rejuvenating effects of being surrounded by greenery and other natural elements. (Source)
- Immunity Booster: Research has found that exposure to nature can boost the immune system, leading to improved health. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When we breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days! Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent cancer. Furthermore, exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D, which helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. (Source)
- Increases Physical Activity: Spending time in nature can encourage physical activity, such as hiking, biking, and outdoor sports. More movement can help improve overall fitness levels and reduce the risk of certain health conditions, such as heart disease and obesity. Take a walk around a pond. Get out there. (Source)
- Enhances Cognitive Function: Exposure to nature has been shown to improve cognitive functions, such as memory and attention. This may be due to the calming effects of being in nature, which can reduce distractions and increase focus. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of our natural surroundings gives the cognitive portion of our brain a vacation, allowing us to focus better and refresh our patience...you know, kind of how you feel after a "real" vacation. Except, brain vacations are free if you live near nature...or perhaps the low cost of admission to a botanical garden. Do it. (Source)
Spending time in nature is aligned with our primal DNA as humans and has a variety of mental and physical health benefits. Whether it's taking a walk in a park, getting some sunshine, going for a hike, or simply staring at a tree - incorporating nature into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. So, get out there.
About the author: Elle Russ is a #1 bestselling author, world-renowned thyroid health expert, and master coach.
- Listen to a podcast episode with Elle Russ and guest Rochelle Calvert Ph.D. - the author of Healing With Nature HERE
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