Lets face it: the world we live in can be a mighty stressful place. While some level of stress in your life is inevitable, it’s important to recognize that stress levels have a distinct impact on our bodies. Everything that you experience (and this includes what you see, hear and feel) throughout the day has a profound effect on how your immune, endocrine and nervous systems are able to work together and support your wellbeing. Stress modulates these systems, and your environment modulates that stress.
One of our primary defenses against these rising stress levels, and their effects on our body, is a daily dose of Mother Nature. Even a quick trip outside can help the body heal and improve your overall sense of calm and wellbeing. And this isn’t just “feel good” mumbo jumbo either. Science has shown time and time again, that going for a quick walk, escaping for an afternoon hike, or going on an outdoor adventure can actually make you less stressed and overall healthier.
But I meet a whole bunch of people who are as miserable in nature as they are out of it (if there is such a place), which goes to show that science might be measuring those whose attitude is willing to change. If you are self-righteous out in nature it doesn’t make you any better, or angry, or sad, or whatever. Unless nature gets through your thinking process my experience is that nature is nice, but it can’t force feed you.
With that in mind, a willingness to chill and enjoy some down time in nature the following becomes highly relevant:
How Nature Heals Us:
Stress and Fear Reduction
Being outdoors amongst nature has the ability to reduce or eliminate anger, fear or other negative feelings simply by replacing them with pleasant feelings. While the real deal is preferable, studies have shown that just viewing pictures of nature can contribute to this effect. Exposure to nature doesn’t just make you feel better, but is able to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and your body’s production of the stress hormone. Keeping these at bay will most certainly have long-term health benefits.
Immune System Boost
Exposure to nature is also excellent for preventative health as well. Studies have shown a distinct boost in immune system function when subjects are exposed to the great outdoors. On its face it sounds almost unbelievable, but from a scientific perspective it makes perfect sense. When we are out in nature and breathing fresh air, we are also breathing in airborne chemicals (phytoncides), which plants give off to protect themselves from insects. When humans breathe these chemicals in, our bodies respond with an increase in white blood cells and therefore a big boost to our immune system. This is part of the reason you might feel so energized after time spent outdoors or in nature.
Increase in Brain Function
General health isn’t the only area that can benefit from a bit of nature. One study has shown that spending time outside can increase your ability to concentrate. In this particular study, researchers were able to show that children with ADHD performed better on mental tasks compared to kids that spent most of their time inside.
Going outside for a walk can also increase creativity in children and adults alike. And while the researchers in this study found that a walk anywhere, indoors our outdoors, is beneficial, it was the time outside that played the biggest part in new and creative ideas. Next time you are feeling stifled, take a walk outside and take your inspiration from Mother Nature. The fresh air alone can be as good as a cup of coffee!
If we have loved ones in our life who are older, but don’t make it a habit to spend time outdoors, they are potentially missing out on some major health benefits. Making a habit of getting outside has been shown to help the elderly stay health and functioning properly longer. In this particular study, people over the age of 70 who spent just a little time outside every day complained of less aches and pains and also less issue with sleep. Group activities connected to nature, like gardening, have also been shown to help dementia and stroke patients regain more control over their lives.
We have only just begun to understand the healing properties of nature and time spent outdoors. Even without hard science, I think many people can relate to its power to help calm and soothe just on an experiential level. So next time you are feeling stressed, under the weather, uninspired or worn out, just remember that going outside for even a quick walk can cure what ails you.