Many people spend their workday indoors under fluorescent lights and in front of computers, then come home to enjoy the glow of television screens.
But research indicates that it is important to make time to get outdoors as well, because doing so is beneficial, and perhaps even essential, for human health.
Psychologists and researchers are finding more science-backed reasons to all recommend getting outside and enjoying the natural world.
In her book, “Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative,” journalist Florence Williams wrote that she began investigating the health benefits of nature after moving from the mountainous terrain of Boulder, Colorado, to Washington, D.C., according to Business Insider.
“I felt confused and depressed,” she wrote. “My mind had trouble focusing. I couldn’t finish thoughts. I couldn’t make decisions and I wasn’t eager to get out of bed.”
“But humans need to spend time in the natural environment if they want to improve their physical and mental health,” Williams added. This might mean taking advantage of the hiking trails near your home, playing in the snow, swimming in the ocean, or spending some time each week at the local park.
Here are 7 reasons why you should go natural:
Walking in nature improves your short-term memory:
Many studies show that nature walks have effects that encourage memory activity. Another study found that depressed individuals walked in nature, which enhanced memory much more than walking in the city.
Being outdoors has an obvious stress-relieving effect:
One study found that students who were sent into the forest for two nights had lower cortisol levels. It is a hormone often used as an indicator of stress, more so by those who have spent that time in the city.
In another study, researchers found lower heart rates and cortisol levels than participants who spent time in the forest compared to those in the city. The researchers concluded, “Stress can be alleviated by forest therapy.”
Going outdoors helps fight depression and anxiety:
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may sometimes be relieved by getting back into the natural world, especially when combined with exercise.
One study found that walking in parks was linked to lower levels of anxiety and lower moods, and another found that walking outdoors could be “useful as a complement to existing treatments” for major depressive disorder.
Nature protects your vision level:
Especially in children, a large body of research has found that outdoor activity may have a protective effect on the eyes and reduce the risk of developing myopia.
One study said that increasing time spent outdoors may be a simple strategy to reduce the risk of developing and progressing myopia in children and adolescents.
Spending time outside lowers blood pressure:
An extensive study of 280 participants in Japan found that along with lowering stress hormone concentrations by more than 15%, walking in the forest lowered participants’ pulse rates by nearly 4% and blood pressure by more than 2%.
Spending time in nature develops your creative tendencies:
A study found that people who ventured out into nature for two to four days increased their performance on a creative problem-solving test by 50%.
Outdoor sessions may help prevent cancer:
Research in this regard is still in its early stages, but preliminary studies suggest that spending time in nature, in forests in particular, may stimulate the production of anti-cancer proteins. The increase in levels of these proteins that people obtain in the forest may continue for up to seven days after the trip.
What does nature do for you?
There are many benefits to being outdoors. To begin with, this will require you to get up and move around, which is useful if most of your day involves sitting in front of the screen of this or that device. Research shows that taking short breaks can enhance your ability to engage and interact with work, and that taking such quick breaks in natural light will give you a dose of vitamin D.
So, it’s very positive so far. In addition, increasing studies – conducted to compare a person’s reactions while in urban environments to those in nature – indicate that the nature of the outdoor environment that a person seeks also affects, as walking among green spaces and under a clear blue sky has a better positive effect. Thus, compared to its presence in the crowded streets of cities.
Lisa Nisbet, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Trent University in Canada, says that research generally suggests that people respond and react less stressfully “when they are in nature.” “When you are in nature, your blood pressure goes down,” she says. “Your heart rate variability is better, and your mood improves.”
She adds: “There are also a lot of studies being conducted on the benefits of being in nature and its impact on one’s happiness and cognitive performance. People are generally happier when they are in nature. Because happiness is a very broad concept, we measure things like positive emotions.” Or the negativity that a person feels and the extent of his feeling of vitality and renewal of activity (because of his presence in nature), in addition to the extent of his satisfaction with his life.”
She points out that “people’s immersion in nature, even in urban environments, tends to have greater vitality and positive feelings than they do in closed spaces.”
The five-minute dose
Perhaps here we should consider the view of Jo Barton, a researcher at the School of Sports, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Essex in Britain, who works in what is known in the field of “green training”, which indicates that engaging in an activity in nature brings health benefits. In one study, Barton examined the amount of “dose” a person needs from interacting with nature in order to get a “boost” that benefits their psychological and mental health.
Although you might assume that the benefits increase the longer the duration of this interaction, Barton revealed through the study that included 1,252 people who engaged in activities such as walking and gardening, that the greatest improvement in terms of things such as mood and self-esteem occurred in the first five minutes of “exposure to nature.” “.
“We clearly saw positive effects throughout all times (of exposure to nature), but the most important was in those five minutes, just when you’re paying attention to mental health,” she says.
This researcher believes that this aspect is being enhanced at an accelerated rate, perhaps resulting from the human transition to a green environment, and also stems from the way in which nature helps us shift from what is known as “voluntary attention,” which requires focus and energy, to “involuntary attention,” which does not require attention. It requires only minimal effort, allowing us to recover from any mental or mental exhaustion. “Exposure to nature is really helpful in facilitating these changes to happen very quickly,” she says.
Barton found that the results of practicing this activity in nature are not affected by whether one engages in it in an urban or rural green area or among forests. I also discovered that the presence of bodies of water creates a greater positive impact. As for city dwellers, a short walk in a park close to home may be an option for them, if they cannot reach a rural area to do so.
The aforementioned activities may also be useful for increasing productivity rates. The results of a study conducted in Finland – examining how workers taking an hour for lunch can help them re-energize and de-stress from work – showed that taking a short walk-in nature can improve job performance.
The study took place over two weeks in the spring and fall semesters. The researchers divided the sample into three groups: One group continued to take their lunch break as usual, while the second group was asked to walk for 15 minutes in a park, and the third group was asked to engage in relaxation exercises indoors. Tests conducted in the fall – in the context of that study – produced surprising and interesting results.