Spring has taken its sweet time in arriving this year, but now that it’s finally here, the great outdoors are calling! Spending time in nature is not only relaxing; studies show that it actually improves both mental and physical health. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that enjoying nature has to offer.
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.
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.
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.
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 were encouraged to go outside during recess. After one year, the school where the students were encouraged to play outside had significantly fewer new cases of myopia.
Researchers have not demonstrated that time outside can reverse myopia in those who already have it, but since time outdoors has so many other health benefits, you might as well try making nature time a part of your regular routine.
You probably don’t need an article to tell you that spending time in nature makes you feel better, but now that you know about all the 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.
- Hero (Top) Feature Image: © John / Adobe Stock
- Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
- Innovated Captures / Adobe Stock
- elnariz / Adobe Stock