Venturing into the great outdoors can dramatically improve your life. More and more research has emerged touting the impacts of nature on physical, mental and emotional well-being. From boosting low energy to warding off sickness, here's a look at how some fresh air and sunshine could possibly be an easy (and fun) prescription for whatever ails you.
1. It Boosts Immunity
Long recognized as a treatment for stress in Japan, "forest bathing" can also have a substantial impact on the immune system. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine found that forests can enhance anticancer proteins and natural "killer cell" activity, which targets tumor cells.
So how exactly does one bathe in a forest? Researchers from the above-mentioned study describe it as "visiting a forest park for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile substances called phytoncides (wood essential oils)."
In addition to reducing stress and strengthening immunity, researchers noticed that time spent in forests leads to a decrease in blood pressure and reduction of cortisol, the stress hormone that contributes to weight gain.
2. It Reduces the Risk of Depression
When you need to shake off any negative thoughts, take a walk — preferably through a grassy area brimming with trees and shrubs.
According to a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, taking a 90-minute walk through a natural grassy area with trees and shurbs showed decreased activity in the region of the brain that's active when experiencing negative emotions or depression.
And if you want to make a better mood a mainstay of daily living, reconsider where you call home. The study authors estimate that those who live in an urban environment have a 20-percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40-percent higher risk of mood disorders compared with those who live in rural areas.
3. It Improves Memory and Focus
Got a big exam or presentation on the horizon? Head outdoors and seek out some greenery whenever you sense mental fatigue setting in.
A 2008 study conducted at the University of Michigan found that walking in nature, even in frigid temperatures, helped improve memory and attention scores by 20 percent, compared with those who walked along city streets. Furthermore, a 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that children with ADHD tended to have better focus when in green, outdoor settings.
4. It Can Help Speed the Healing Process
There's a reason hospitals have incorporated more gardens in recent years, and it's not just to beautify the dull landscaping. Nature can actually help speed up the recovery process.
The first groundbreaking study on the subject, done in 1984, found that patients with access to a view of nature healed one day faster on average, required less pain medication and had less post-surgical complications than patients whose rooms restricted any glimpse of the outdoors.
5. It Curbs Stress
When you need a quick fix for stress, step outside for precisely three minutes and look at the trees. That's how quickly nature can alleviate our stress levels, according to the same researcher who conducted the study on hospital gardens.
And a 2010 study, this one published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that simply listening to a nature soundscape, such as the sounds of birds chirping or a waterfall, can also combat stress by inducing a positive emotional state.
6. It Eases Aggression
Even if you can't physically get outside, merely simulating the outdoors can have impactful health benefits, especially when you feel your temper starting to rise.
Administrators at Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon tested this theory in 2016 with their Nature Imagery Project, which allowed inmates to watch nature films during recreational time that depicted scenes of oceans, forests and rivers.
The result? The inmates who regularly watched the films committed 26 percent fewer violent offenses in the correctional facility than those who hadn't. They also exhibited less aggression, distress, irritability and nervousness.
7. It Helps With Sleep
Better sleep starts with going outside to soak up the sunshine or, at the very least, seeing the sun as often as you can throughout the day.
According to a 2015 published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, those who had more exposure to natural light slept an average of 46 more minutes per night. The study also highlighted additional benefits among those who got more sunshine, including being more physically active and in general, happier.
8. It Strengthens Family Bonding
The family who plays outside together stays together. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review found that family-based activities in nature can nurture a family's sense of identity and belonging, especially if those activities become regular rituals.
In addition to getting away from the day-to-day routine, a morning hike or an afternoon at the park reduces mental fatigue and restores attention — two key contributors in helping family members get along.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise
- Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function
- PNAS: Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
- University of Michigan News: Going outside—even in the cold—improves memory, attention
- Scientific American: How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal
- Los Angeles Times: Nature Has Charms That Can Reduce Stress
- Popular Science: Nature Videos Make Prisoners Less Violent
- UC Health: Increase Daytime Light Exposure for Better Sleep at Night
- Journal of Family Theory and Review: Theorizing Family‐Based Nature Activities and Family Functioning: The Integration of Attention Restoration Theory With a Family Routines and Rituals Perspective