The benefits of spending time in nature

December 12, 2019
Filipe Bastos

The modern world is fast-paced, competitive and stressful. It is also becoming increasingly digitalised. Our daily lives are busier than ever before, and we are under increasing amounts of pressure, be it work, school or otherwise. It is challenging to carve out the time in our daily routines to do the things that truly bring us joy and make us feel at peace. This combination of both happiness and stillness may be tricky to find for many of us, but the benefits of achieving this state of being for our minds and bodies can last for weeks. For many of us, we may take nature for granted; something that is just ‘there’. But we really shouldn’t. As humans, nature is intrinsically important to us. It can have powerful health benefits if we take the time to re-connect with it every now and again. The modern work environment, in particular, is alien to what keeps us healthy and happy as humans. Sure, it is important to stay busy and be motivated, but it is equally important to take time to rest and just breathe. Something as simple as taking a walk amongst some trees or in a green space can do wonders for our health.

 The benefits of being outdoors

Being immersed in a natural environment can reduce blood pressure, decrease heart rate and muscle tension, and boost the immune system. This is true for all humans, regardless of age, health or culture. In fact, it has been proven that even seeing a picture of nature can go some way towards providing such benefits. Our brains and bodies are naturally attuned to respond to nature positively. It is a common trait of all humans. We are genetically programmed to feel happier and calmer when we are surrounded by trees, water, plants, and other natural elements. We are only recently starting to catch on to just how much the “concrete jungles” of many urban cities are negatively affecting us. Forward-thinking cities such as Singapore are starting to counteract some of this toxicity, intending to turn the city into a ‘city in a Garden’. This recognition of the importance of green spaces within our cities is still in its infancy – within the next decade, our modern cities may look very different, as the importance of mental health becomes more and more prevalent.

What research says?

Studies show that even proximity to a green or natural space can cause benefits to our health. Further studies by Swedish physician Matilda Van Den Bosch found that after a stressful math test, participants’ heart rates returned to normal more quickly after they were shown fifteen minutes of nature scenes. This goes some way as to show us just how powerful nature can be for our mental, as well as our physical state of being. A fifteen-minute physical walk through a wooded area can reduce cortisol in our bodies by 16%, as well as a 2% decrease in blood pressure, and a 4% decrease in heart rate. In a society where stress and burnout run rampant, a simple, free, and extremely effective walk in nature can save us time and money, as well as saving our health. The studies are clear – for the sake of your wellbeing, spending some time in nature is a no-brainer. The benefits of nature are widely underestimated, we may turn to resources such as shopping, eating out and other forms of consumption to give us short-term dopamine hits. But in the long-term, these distractions can often lead to more anxiety and stress. We may end up spending more than anticipated, as well as accumulating more stuff than we really need. Choosing to spend time in nature will also increase your dopamine levels, as well as providing a wealth of other benefits. Even better if you can walk briskly and get some exercise at the same time.

What is “nature deprivation”?

‘Nature deprivation’ which roughly translates to spending too much time in front of screens, and in the online digital world, can have serious consequences. Scientists have linked too much screen time to an increased likelihood of depression. Spending too much time on social media can often lead to feelings of isolation that can then generate feelings of depression and anxiety, which may cause people to isolate themselves even further. Moreover, Mobile phones can cause the EEG activity of our brain to go into overload. This causes us to miss details, be less aware of our surroundings and have shorter attention spans overall. Spending time in nature can be an effective, immediate way to counter that by reducing negative thoughts and rumination. The best part, research says, is that the type of environment doesn’t matter. Even a short walk around some green in your neighbourhood can help.

While the science on the benefits of nature is still young, researchers are hopeful that it will continue to grow, revealing the wealth of health benefits which we are only recently starting to come to terms with as a society. This is encouraging to those of us who are looking for a way to ease some of the symptoms we may feel as a result of being a part of an over-worked, and increasingly busy society. Something as simple as stepping outside of your front door and enjoying a walk in the fresh air can go some way towards providing some of the benefits we have discussed. Nature can help you to be a kinder, calmer and healthier person. It costs nothing, and it is enjoyable and soothing to be immersed in natural settings.To recap, Nature provides a range of health benefits: including reduced anxiety and depression; reduced heart rate and blood pressure; reduced feelings of stress and overwhelm; increased mood and attention span; and a general sense of overall wellbeing. No other activity can provide so many benefits while having no side effects. There really are no disadvantages to the simplicity and powerfulness of nature in how it can help us, so get out and enjoy it!

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