Green & Serene: The Benefits of Time Spent in Nature
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~ John Muir
I feel confident to say that the majority of us have felt the unexplained pull of the outdoors, even if it’s simply prompting us to take a leisurely walk in the park, or to lay down on the grass watching clouds drift by. Nature holds a special place in our hearts and minds: it is pure, wild and spirit-renewing!
So, what is it about being in nature that makes us feel so alive? Research has found that simply spending time in parks, gardens and forests is linked to stronger mental and physical health. It makes sense then that city dwellers, or people with little exposure to green spaces, are at an increased risk for disease, including depression and anxiety, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, and so much more.
A Health Booster
Being in a vegetation-rich surroundings have remarkable benefits for human health. Studies show that spending as little as 20 minutes in green spaces improves vitality, and increases resiliency when faced with both mental and physical challenges.
Spending of time in natural surroundings has been show to increase immune function, helping the body to switch from the “fight or flight” response brought on by stress, to a more calm “rest and digest” mode. When we are feeling safe and contented, rather than being on constant high alert, our bodies are free to invest more energy towards our immune system, promoting healing and greater wellbeing.
Another virtue of time spent in nature is the inherent immune-boosting abilities of vitamin D acquired through the sun's rays on your skin, as well as exposure to negative ions, phytoncides (healthy antimicrobial compounds derived from plants) and mycobacterium vaccae (beneficial bacteria in the soil).
The Japanese advocate spending time under the canopy of a living forest in a practice called Shinrin Yoku, or “forest bathing,” and has become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine.
Researchers have established a robust body of scientific literature that supports the claims of the benefits of Shinrin Yoku, demonstrating the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas. The evidence-based benefits of Shinrin Yoku include:
Boosted immune functioning
Reduced blood pressure
Lowered stress levels
Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
Increased energy level
In Japan, there are now forty-four official Shinrin Yoku forests, and it’s practice has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity.
Whether your things is to plant a garden or a quiet day of fishing, or perhaps you are addicted to the high you get after a cross-country run, the important thing is that you spend adequate time in nature. At the very least, get outside regularly for a simple stroll, have lunch in the shade of a tree, or take walk barefoot on the grass. Try bringing live plants or a fish aquarium (also found to improve mental health) into your home. Connecting with nature is a basic human need that reaps tremendous health benefits for both body and mind!