Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

In recent years, people have begun spending more and more time indoors and online.  Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s lack of adventure – whatever the reason, scientists are beginning to find evidence that getting out in nature can have a positive, lasting effect on our brains and behavior.

Here are some ways nature can help us!

Decreases stress

Studies have shown walks in nature will lower blood pressure, heart rates and reduce stress significantly more than the same amount of time walking in an urban center.  Spending time in nature can also lower the stress hormone cortisol.

Increases happiness

Exploring in nature has shown an increase in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with depression and anxiety and a decrease in rumination which is associated with the same two moods.

Increases creativity

Engaging in outdoor activities has also shown an increase in activity in prefrontal cortex.  This in turn leads to bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.  There is also evidence that strong environmental connections are related to better performance, heightened concentration and reduced chances of developing Attention Deficit Disorder. So go for a walk – without the phone!

Makes you feel ‘more alive’

Being in nature can also lead to heightened sensory awareness – what we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we feel.  People may even feel an increase in energy.

Improves Physical Health

There are so many ways that being in nature can actually help us physically. Nature provides Vitamin D, improves our eyesight, releases toxins from our bodies, aids in burning fat, improves metabolism, and heals our souls.

What Can You Do?

Bring the Outdoors In

Sometimes it may not be possible to escape into nature to find these positive benefits.  However, listening to nature sounds can have a similar effect on our well-being. Studies using MRI tests to measure brain activity showed increases in on outward-directed focus of attention, often associated with daydreaming.  Even looking at pictures of nature or outdoor places you enjoy visiting can help.

Find Your Space

To ensure that you are able to include nature in your daily life, it is important that you make it a daily habit.  Try finding 20-30 minutes about three days per week to engage with nature in order to feel the positive benefits.  This can be anything from riding a bike, walking the dog, listening to rain or ocean waves, or even revisiting pictures from a favorite place of nature.  Any of these activities will help you achieve at least a minimum of the positive benefits previously listed.

As the great Floyd Wright stated “Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature.  It will never fail you.”

Some outdoor activity suggestions

** Participate in shinrin-yoku (forest bathing).  This is the Japanese term of taking in the forest through our senses.  It does not include jogging, hiking or any form of physical exercise. It is simply the act of moving slowly so you can see and feel more.  Tips to get started – turn off devices; slow down; take long deep breaths; stop, stand, sit and smell.  Enjoy!

** Take a simple nature walk – set a specific amount of time and oath ahead of time, grab a bottle of water, and just head outside.

** Go on a bike ride and find a new path or street where you have never been before.

** Put on a blindfold, sit and listen for five minutes. Try to identify the sounds you hear or just sit and breathe.

** Look for a small space, toss a coat hanger, then look for the plants, insects, spiders, rocks, etc. in that small space.  Draw a picture of everything you see and find.

** Plant a garden – any size and any contents.  Dirt therapy is peaceful and relaxing.