Benefiting From Nature

Nature, the great outdoors, it’s all around us. While it often goes unnoticed or neglected, it is still there. What’s interesting is that nature, this essential part of our planet, can provide many benefits to our health but we often forget because we have become distracted by our routines and our busy lives. As a society, we have become inclined to spend much of our time with technology. Of course, that is the price we pay for innovation; however, some of us have lost sight of the importance of spending time outdoors. Spending time in nature can actually improve your health in several ways. Just an occasional walk through the trees can benefit you. Here are four ways that spending time in nature can improve your well-being.

1. Lowers Stress

There have been multiple studies on the benefits of spending more time in nature and they all agree that a main benefit is stress reduction. Studies have found that people who spend more time in nature have lower cortisol levels, the hormone response to stress. There can be many stressors in our everyday lives and these stressors can create an unpleasant environment. An article by the University of Minnesota states that, “The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that.” Nature is a restorative environment to retreat to when life becomes stressful.

2. Improves Mental Health

Spending time in nature has been known to alleviate anxiety and depression. In a study by Stanford University they saw that participants who walked for 90 minutes in nature showed a decrease in activity in a part of the brain that is associated with depression. They have also found that people who live in the city are 20% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. I know that I personally feel more at peace when I spend time in nature because there is a lack of noise or disruption and all of my concerns feel far away. Nature has a way of reducing worry and silencing negative thoughts.

3. Inspires Creativity 

I have always found this to be true in my own experience. After going for a hike, I always feel like my creative energy has been replenished and I feel inspired. A study conducted by Ruth Ann Atchley, a professor of cognitive and clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, found that a group of backpackers that had being hiking for four days were 50% more creative than usual. She explains that the stimulations of modern life “sap our resources” so when we spend time in nature we can rest our minds and we end up having resources left over that can be channeled into creative outlets.

 4. Improves Physical Health

In general, maintaining a certain level of physical activity is good for your health, but with all of the additional benefits you receive from nature you might as well get in the habit of taking walks in the great outdoors. In fact, several studies suggest that exposure to plants and trees boosts your immunity. Some scientists believe that the phytoncides that plants emit for their own protection also benefit human’s immune function. Additionally, moderate exposure to sunlight every day helps your body produce more vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to help maintain bone health but can also help alleviate the symptoms of depression. So, spending time outdoors is good for your body as well as your mind.

 I know that I am often distracted by the demands of everyday life myself, but it seems odd and even neglectful not to embrace the simple practice of spending more time outdoors and enjoy the benefits that come from just being there. Just this past weekend I decided to take a hike on the beautiful Mount Lemmon here in Tucson, and even though it is reaching peak temperatures, it was well worth it. While I was physically drained from my two-hour hike, I definitely felt mentally restored afterwards. Getting away from it all isn’t just a saying, it’s a necessity. Spending just a little more time in a natural setting is a simple lifestyle change that could vastly improve your health. So put on your walking shoes, go somewhere off the beaten path, and get to know nature a little better.