With people moving to treadmills instead of running outside and kids choosing to play video games over outdoor sports, we’ve begun to spend lesser time with nature. And, although technology offers convenience, experts believe that nothing can beat spending time in nature.
In fact, recent research indicates that taking a walk in the park might come with a range of health benefits. Here are a few that you might not be aware of.
1. Relieves Stress
The world we live in is highly competitive, fast, and challenging. Hence, stress is something that most of us have experienced, more than once.
Studies state that spending time in nature lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, and decreases one’s heart rate. Hence, make sure to take regular walks in nature or sit next to a window that overlooks a garden or forest.1
2. Sharpens The Brain
If you’ve got an exam coming up, then stepping out for your breaks or studying in your backyard garden might be just what you need to ace it. Studies show that spending time in nature improves memory significantly, irrespective of the weather outside.2
Additionally, being in nature improves concentration and creativity, as it is believed to relieve the prefrontal cortex (used for complex cognitive functions).3 So, if you ever feel like you’ve overworked your brain, take a walk outdoors.
3. Boosts Immunity
Studies indicate that spending time in nature improves immune function. This could be due to its positive influence on the parasympathetic system (which controls salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation) which then influences the immune system.
Additionally, studies state that exposure to phytoncides (substances emitted by plants) in nature increases the levels of white blood cells, which fight infections.4 Hence, if you’ve been coming down with the flu very often, exercise or take regular walks outdoors. However, if you suffer from seasonal allergies, avoid heading out during fall.5
4. Improves Mood
If you’ve been feeling low of late, head outdoors. Research states that walks in a forest could decrease levels of anxiety and bad moods, so much so that they could even be used as an alternative form of therapy for depression.6
Additionally, being in nature reduces rumination and improves self-esteem. One reason for this could be the fact that spending time in nature increases activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain whose deactivation is affiliated with depression and anxiety.7 Hence, if you’ve had a particularly moody week, take a walk in a park.
5. Protects Vision
In children, spending time outdoors might improve vision. Studies indicate that children who indulged in outdoor activities have a lower risk of developing nearsightedness or myopia.8 Hence, it might be a good idea to encourage your child to head outdoors more often.
6. Lowers Blood Pressure
If you suffer from high blood pressure, add spending time in nature to your treatment plan. Studies state that being in nature and looking at trees can lower blood pressure.
Additionally, walking in a park also lowers one’s heart rate and sympathetic nerve activity (which is linked to hypertension). If you don’t have the time to sit outdoors for a long time, do your exercises or stretches outdoors.9
7. Boosts Energy
If you’ve been feeling low and tired for no reason at all, researchers believe that being outdoors might help. Spending time in nature increases energy, vitality, and sense of wellbeing.
In fact, a simple outdoor hike might leave you feeling more “alive.” This energizing effect of nature is believed to go above and beyond that of exercise and social interaction. Hence, you should step outside to have more energy to do things.10
8. Improves Sleep
Most of us have had sleep-related troubles at some point in our lives. Recent research states that spending more time outdoors can improve sleep quality, particularly for men and people over the age of 65.
Additionally, these studies found that people living next to green landscapes had higher levels of physical activity which, in turn, led to beneficial sleep patterns. So, be sure to step outside more often.11
Considering the number of health benefits that nature has, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t head outdoors more often. You could plan a camping trip every weekend, visit a park every other day, or work in your backyard garden to get into the habit of spending time in nature.
|↑1||Miyazaki, Yoshifumi, J. Lee, B. J. Park, Y. Tsunetsugu, and K. Matsunaga. “Preventive medical effects of nature therapy.” Nihon eiseigaku zasshi. Japanese journal of hygiene 66, no. 4 (2011): 651-656.|
|↑2||Going outside—even in the cold—improves memory, attention. The University Of Michigan.|
|↑3||How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative. The University Of Berkley.|
|↑4||Li, Q., K. Morimoto, M. Kobayashi, H. Inagaki, M. Katsumata, Y. Hirata, K. Hirata et al. “A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.” J Biol Regul Homeost Agents 22, no. 1 (2008): 45-55.|
|↑5||Kuo, Ming. “How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway.” Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015).|
|↑6||Bratman, Gregory N., Gretchen C. Daily, Benjamin J. Levy, and James J. Gross. “The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition.” Landscape and Urban Planning 138 (2015): 41-50.|
|↑7||Bratman, Gregory N., J. Paul Hamilton, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross. “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.” Proceedings of the national academy of sciences 112, no. 28 (2015): 8567-8572.|
|↑8||Wu, Pei-Chang, Chia-Ling Tsai, Hsiang-Lin Wu, Yi-Hsin Yang, and Hsi-Kung Kuo. “Outdoor activity during class recess reduces myopia onset and progression in school children.” Ophthalmology 120, no. 5 (2013): 1080-1085.|
|↑9||Park, Bum Jin, Yuko Tsunetsugu, Tamami Kasetani, Takahide Kagawa, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki. “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.” Environmental health and preventive medicine 15, no. 1 (2010): 18.|
|↑10||Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows. The University Of Rochester.|
|↑11||Having trouble sleeping? Research suggests spending more time outdoors. Harvard Health Publishing.|