By Ann Sullivan
Spending time outdoors has been shown to have numerous benefits to health and wellbeing. Decompressing, alleviating stress, relaxing and unwinding are some of the restorative benefits of communing with nature. Studies have found there are other benefits as well. After all, it isn’t called Mother Nature for no reason. She has a way of curing a lot of what ails us. All you have to do is get out there and see for yourself. Here are 11 things that have been found to be beneficial when you spend time in nature.
1) Restore Mental Capacity
The great outdoors is an excellent place to clear your head. A walk along the beach or through the woods has been known to reduce depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. While you’re surrounded by the beautiful sights and sounds you can completely clear your mind and be present in nature’s wonder. The sound of the ocean hitting the shore, or birds singing, are sounds some people buy recordings of to relax or sleep better. Being among the actual sounds and sights is the best way to achieve a clear mind. Researchers are finding increasing evidence that nature is a good cure for what ails your nervous system. So, if you feel stressed, try walking in nature, or just sitting on the beach watching the waves come in. You’ll most likely find this will decompress your tension and aid in clearer thinking.
2) Reduce Inflammation
When you are stressed, your body automatically goes into hyper-drive. This causes a state of tension where you are not at ease, and therefore become susceptible to dis-ease. The human body creates inflammation as a defense mechanism against injuries and illnesses. Chronic inflammation, however, is the root of many ailments. Time spent in nature has been found to reverse the effects of many inflammatory diseases such as autoimmune, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and even certain cancers. Studies have found spending just 30 minutes a day in places like forests, parks, gardens, or the beach can help lower blood pressure and improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Stress is a major contributor to inflammatory illness. Simply going for a walk or sitting among the beauty of nature has lasting positive benefits in reducing stress and the resulting inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
3) Increase Concentration
Studies have found that simply looking at nature and its beauty can help your brain function better. This is one of the reason “Green Roofs” are becoming popular in metropolitan communities. Rooftops covered in grass, flowers and other plants are being created in cities like Paris and New York. Even taking a small “microbreak” for less than a minute to look at the greenery can improve focus and concentration. Researchers are finding nature to be the antidote to sitting at a desk in an office all day long. Modern technology has a draining effect on a person’s mental capacity. Looking at a computer screen for hours on end can cause a person to simply zone out. Leading studies have found taking a short break to look at nature – even in photos – regenerates brain function and increases concentration levels and attention spans rather quickly.
Going for a hike in the woods or a walk on the beach is a great way to relax and stay in shape at the same time. In fact, going for a walk is related to a lot of health benefits. Research studies at Stanford University found positive effects on mood and an overall sense of wellbeing associated with walking or hiking in nature. It was also found to decrease stress and have a positive impact on the grieving process among those mourning a loved one. It can help to better deal with other traumatic stresses such as divorce, injury, or illness. Studies have compared those who walk in nature with those who walk on a city street. The nature walkers faired far better in overall results. Walking is also free. It costs nothing to just get out and walk among the beauty of natural surroundings.
Getting outside among the naturals sounds of birds or an ocean breeze can really allow you to unplug. Leave your phone home, or turn it off. When you absorb the surrounding natural sights, and sounds, without man-made noise or disruptions, it will allow you to totally decompress. There are many benefits to unplugging and communing with nature. Firstly, it will begin to give you a sense of your own self without artificial stimulus to interrupt. It will also afford you the opportunity to completely unwind without having to answer a text, phone call, or email. Taking time to decompress in this manner will give you a sense of rejuvenation. Then, when you do go back to the proverbial grind, you’ll be refreshed and less stressed about the tasks you need to attend to. You’ll be able to approach things in a more relaxed manner.
6) Reduce Stress
Whether it be a mountain hike or simply sitting in your own back yard, nature is a huge stress reliever. Our brains are not machinery. They are easily drained which makes us feel zapped of energy. When we slow things down a bit, and take a break from a busy hectic pace, our brains respond quickly. In a New York Times report, brooding, also referred to as morbid rumination, was found to be detrimental to our mental health and well-being. When we constantly ruminate over negative thoughts, it’s neither healthy nor helpful. Being outside observing nature can break this thinking process and has been known to lower stress related high blood pressure. Being in nature was found to cause more blood flow to the brain. This in turn allows clearer thinking due to greater activity. Nature has a way of allowing us to relax our minds and bodies.
7) Improve Memory
Studies have indicated going outside, even in cold weather, can help improve focus and memory. Researchers believe this is a great remedy for those suffering mental fatigue. When your brain is tired, it’s difficult to recall even simple or recent things. Making nature viewing a part of your regular routine is a way to combat memory problems. Even if you can’t get outside, simply viewing photos is known to have the same relaxing and refreshing effects. It’s like taking a pause from all the noise and suddenly things are quiet and serene. Your brain will quickly respond and relax. When your brain is relaxed the rest of you follows. You will, therefore, experience clearer thinking. It’s like meditating, except you have nature as the stimulus of your focus. Somehow, nature has a way of imparting a natural meditative state that has many benefits for mental wellness.
8) Absorb Sunshine
When you’re out in the sunshine in the surroundings of nature, you’re exposing yourself to a natural mood enhancer. Granted too much of the sun’s rays can be harmful. The right amount, however, can be like an elixir. Sunlight triggers the release of the hormone serotonin. This is the mood enhancing hormone which can help you feel relaxed and focus better. Melatonin is the opposite hormone, triggered by darkness, which helps us fall asleep. So, if you’re feeling drowsy or down during the day, just go outside and get some sunshine. Sunlight triggers an area of the retina in the eye which releases the serotonin. Sunshine is also a beneficial source of vitamin D. When exposed to the sun’s rays, your skin can create large amounts of vitamin D. It’s designed to get vitamin D when exposed to sunlight’s UVB rays.
9) Breathe Fresh Air
Being outside in natural surroundings affords us the opportunity to breathe clean fresh air. This is beneficial to cleaning the lungs and getting rid of toxins in the body. When the fresh air is absorbed in the lungs it brings more oxygen to the cells of the body and creates a cleansing action. This is great for relaxation as well as having health benefits. The increased oxygen level aids in clearer brain function. When the cells of the body are fed oxygen, they regenerate themselves. Cells make up our bodily tissues so it’s important to give them plenty of oxygen via fresh air. Without oxygen, cells will live no longer than three minutes. Oxygen is one of the necessary elements for the human body to live and thrive. Fresh air also aids the digestive system. So, go ahead and take that walk after lunch or dinner.
10) Improve Creativity
We live in an age where technology may just be getter the better of us. The information highway can certainly end up like being in a traffic jam on the road. This can cause burnout, fatigue, and a diminished attention span. To get back to a healthy state, where your creative side is at the fore, get outside and commune with nature. Berkeley researchers found this will restore depleted circuits in your system and allow you to reboot. Once this rejuvenation occurs, creativity is more likely to kick in. It also assists in general problem solving. The human brain is creative by nature. Artificial stimulus, such as computers and cell phones, inhibit the natural process by shutting down the part of our brains responsible for our creative side. Yet, not unlike these devices, your brain needs a chance to recharge and reboot for your creative side to operate properly.
11) Prolong Life
The health benefits of spending time in open spaces can lead us to live a longer and healthier life. A recent study concluded that green space in people’s living environments has a direct positive effect on health. It concluded that the amount of green space in a person’s life has a direct correlation to the quality of that life. It was found that less diseases were present among those who spent time in outdoor environments. The main reason, researchers believe, is being in nature allows us to relieve stress, breathe fresh air, get exercise, and facilitates socialization with others who may be enjoying the same. Across the board, being outdoors in nature, whether in the woods or at the beach, is a way to improve your quality of life and lower your health risks. Studies have found some people showed improved health issues when they spent time outdoors regularly.