Humans are drawn to nature. We feel better when we spend time in forests, gardens, or parks. Edward O. Wilson termed this desire to connect with nature “biophilia.” It implies that an instinctive bond exists between humans and other living systems.
Similar ideas are echoed in the cultural practices of friluftsliv, the Scandinavian philosophy of open air living, and in shinrin-yoku, Japanese forest immersion (or “forest bathing”). And there’s science to back up those warm fuzzies. So, if you need more motivation to make time for a jaunt outside (or convince someone to join you), you’ve come to the right place.
- Nature deficit disorder exists, and most of us have it.
Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the social, behavioral, and health consequences of alienation from the natural world. Although scientists are just beginning to understand the health impacts of urban, mostly indoor living, one thing is clear — we need to put down our devices and get outside.
- It’s good for your heart (literally).
Japanese researchers have shown that forest bathing, the practice of sitting in the forest, lowers your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate variability. It has also been shown to decrease stress hormone levels.
- You’re less likely to be overweight.
In both kids and adults, access and exposure to nature has been shown to lower the risk of obesity. This relationship is most likely due to increased physical activity. Additional studies show that forest bathing decreases blood sugar and cortisol, both of which are also associated with obesity.
- You’ll be happier and improve your memory.
People who live close to nature experience less anxiety and depression. Walking in nature has been shown to improve mood and short-term memory in people with depression, as well as decrease rumination (repetitive, negative thoughts) and brain activity associated with mental illness.
- You’ll fight off illness more efficiently.
Exposure to nature improves immune system function in otherwise healthy people, increasing the production of natural killer cells, an important part of our defense against viruses and cancer.
- Your brain will work better.
In children, time spent in natural settings decreased ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms. In adults, contact with nature improves focus, concentration, and work productivity.
- You’ll get more out of your exercise.
Being outside is good for your health, even without the benefit exercise. But if you do choose to exercise in nature, studies show that you’ll feel a greater sense of revitalization, energy, enjoyment, and satisfaction.
- You’ll feel less pain.
Just looking at nature scenery in a photo or out a window can reduce our experience of pain.
- You’ll sync up to nature’s rhythms.
Being outdoors, and away from artificial lights, helps synchronize your biology to natural circadian rhythms. Scientists investigating chronobiology, the study of biological rhythms, have shown that our connection to natural light/dark cycles helps to regulate our sleep, our moods, our stress levels, and our hormones.
- You’ll practice mindfulness, naturally.
Setting aside artificial stimulation and immersing yourself in nature makes you more aware of your surroundings. You hear the rustle of leaves, the creaking of leaves, and the songs of the birds. It’s mindfulness meditation at its most simple.
You can get most of these benefits even with sporadic exposure to nature. Even if you can only get out of the city infrequently, it will improve your health in countless ways. What are you waiting for?