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The Best Ways Nature Improves Your Health

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This article is Sponsored by All Women's Healthcare.

The latest update for 5 Ways Nature Improves Your Health is written by Lindsay Podolak.

As summer comes to a close and the air begins to cool to a more bearable temperature, the great outdoors are calling! Spending time in nature is not only relaxing; studies show that it actually improves both mental and physical health. In fact, the growing field known as “ecotherapy” is about uncovering all the benefits that enjoying nature has to offer.

Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you should go take a hike!

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Lower risk of depression

When Stanford researchers had one group of people walk in the woods for 90 minutes and one group walk in the city for 90 minutes, they found that the nature walkers had less activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex after the walk. The subgenual prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is active when we focus on negative emotions. The nature walkers also reported less rumination, or negative thinking, after taking their walk.

Rumination is a risk factor for depression, so it makes sense that another study found spending at least 30 minutes per week in nature significantly reduced a person’s risk of having depression.

improves health, nature, health

Lower blood pressure

The same study that found spending time in nature reduces risk of depression also found that spending time in nature reduces risk of high blood pressure. Study participants who reported spending at least 30 minutes a week in outdoor green spaces were significantly less likely to have high blood pressure.

When you consider that high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, it seems that spending time in nature could help save your life.

Stronger immune system

In Japan, where “forest bathing” has been part of the national public health program since 1982, researchers found that spending a day in the forest significantly increases a person’s number of natural killer cells, as well as the number of anti-cancer proteins in a person’s blood cells. This increased immune activity lasted for a whole seven days after the day spent in the forest.

It seems like spending time in nature just once a week can decrease your risk of getting infections, and maybe even cancer.

The medical community is on board with this, too. Board-certified pediatrician Robert Zarr founded Park Rx America, a non-profit whose mission is to decrease the burden of chronic disease, and increase health and happiness, by virtue of prescribing nature.

improves health, nature, health

Lower stress levels

The reason that nature lowers blood pressure and boosts immune function could simply be that it reduces stress levels. Japanese researchers have also measured the effects of forest bathing on physical stress markers. They found that spending time in nature results in lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone. It also lowers oxidative stress, or free radical damage, within the body.

These findings were recently replicated by professors at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; who found that just a 20-minute nature experience was enough to significantly lower cortisol levels.

Improved vision

Scientists are not sure why this is, but it seems as though children who spend time outdoors have a lower risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness. One study looked at two elementary schools with similar rates of myopia. At one school, students spent more time outside during recess. After one year, the school where the students played outside longer had significantly fewer new cases of myopia.

In truth, researchers have yet to demonstrate that time outside can reverse myopia in those who already have it. But since time outdoors has so many other health benefits, making nature a part of your regular routine doesn’t hurt.

You probably don’t need an article to tell you that spending time in nature makes you feel better; but with these scientifically proven benefits of lush, green spaces, you have even more reason to spend time outside. Don’t feel guilty about taking a longer break to eat your lunch in the park; think of it as taking your medicine for the day.

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