If you spend any amount of time outdoors, you know nature is good for you. You can feel the difference while you’re outside breathing in fresh air.
But how exactly does taking nature in through all our senses benefit us? And why?
Nature’s prescription has multiple active ingredients, including aromatic phytoncides, negative air ions, soil mycobacterium, biodiversity, natural sights and sounds, decreased air pollution and an escape from city heat and violence. Many of the 40 benefits below can be traced back to one or a combination of these.
The bottom line: nature is an incredible tonic, so go ahead and get some for yourself!
- Nature is invigorating. That indescribable feeling when you get a lungful of spicy pine, rain, fresh cut grass or the thick, sweet scent of fresh cottonwood leaves is a response to the antimicrobial volatile substances (phytoncides) released by trees and plants. Time in nature has been shown to reduce fatigue and confusion, and natural aromas, along with all the other sensory stimulating aspects of the outdoors, are part of the reason.
- Outdoor time has a positive impact on unhealthy blood pressures. According to studies, time spent in nature means decreases in high blood pressure, such as when smelling cedar trees. Research shows being in the forest has a therapeutic effect on hypertension, especially in older people.
- Studies show forest therapy and time outdoors improves blood glucose levels in people with diabetes mellitus.
- Time in nature boosts immune function, which none of us would complain about. This is linked to a combination of effects nature has, such as its positive impact on sleep, and the presence of Mycobacterium vaccae, which is an immune boosting microorganism found in the soil, and part of the reason gardening is so therapeutic.
- Nature has a positive effect on heart function, with forest therapy effects at the fore-front of research. Dehydroepiandrosterone, sometimes known as the youth hormone or shortened to DHEA, has cardio protective, anti-obesity and anti-diabetic properties, and levels are increased after walking through nature.
- Time spent in nature has been linked with improved lung function. That fresh, unpolluted air and activity do wonders.
- Nature lowers stress. Studies show decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, reduced sympathetic nervous activity and increased parasympathetic activity in people that spend time surrounded by green spaces, breezes and natural sounds. For reference, parasympathetic activity kicks in when you are at rest, and is responsible for metabolism and digestion activation, as well as helping the body relax. Sympathetic nervous activity, however, is the body’s way to prepare for stress, including increased heart rate.
- Speaking of relaxation, since nature helps shift us into parasympathetic activity, it also helps us achieve a deep sense of relaxation. Take a deep breath of that fresh, scented air and feel the tension ooze out and be absorbed and neutralized by the wild.
- Speaking of heart rate, a direct effect of lowering stress and other factors that contribute to high heart rates, time in the great outdoors is related to decreased beats per minute.
- The outdoors decreases inflammation. By countering and relieving stress, which affects so many pathways and functions in our bodies, nature reduces inflammatory cytokines, which promote inflammation. Inflammation affects many things in our bodies, including allergies, asthma, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and sore joints, so it’s good to keep it down as much as possible.
- Getting outdoors improves short term memory and boosts memory in general. Maybe it’s the immense quiet or the reflective and unintrusive ambient noises of the river or the wind in the trees. Maybe it’s the time spent away from being overstimulated by screens and a hectic lifestyle that helps us reach back into our memory files. Whatever it is, we’ll take it!
- Anxious or depressed? Nature can help increase positive emotions. Studies show decreased tension and anxiety with time spent outdoors. Of course, nature isn’t a cure, but it can be an important part of recovery. The negative air ions that are found in the air of forests, mountains and near streams are known to reduce depression.
- Spending time in nature boosts mental energy, getting you ready for the next work or school day and reducing mental fatigue from an intense day.
- Nature can boost your mood, too. It’s hard to stay grumpy or irritated when you notice a ladybug crawling around in the rain or when you hear a bird singing its heart out. Nature washes away feelings of anger and hostility, boosting mood and general satisfaction with life.
- Burnt out? Apparently taking a walk in the forest for some relaxation and perspective is a great tonic, reducing the symptoms of burnout syndrome.
- Nature increases longevity. Studies show that the less green a person’s surroundings are, the higher the risk of developing morbidities. Vice versa, more time spent in green spaces translates into a multitude of benefits that could result in a longer and better life.
- Being surrounded by nature increases quality of life. Why do we take walks outside with family or friends? Why do we choose an outdoor patio at a restaurant? Why do we find cities that keep old trees, plant trees and have green spaces so much more attractive than others? Spending time together (or alone) soaking in the sun enriches our lives.
- The more time spent out there, the more connected with nature you become. And that comes with it’s benefits as well, which is why grounding or earthing is popular. Walking barefoot outdoors, whether on the grass or on a beach, is well-known to be healthy and regulating.
- Losing focus during the day and falling into slumps that are hard to dig yourself out of? Same, but that’s nothing a walk outside can’t fix. Apparently, nature restores attention and increases our capacity for focus. It is even linked with reductions in symptoms of ADHD.
- There’s always something to stew about in life, and there’s no better place to think something through than on a walk or hike. The time without distractions and busyness of life gives great opportunities to reflect on all the riddles that come with being a human, while experiencing all the other benefits nature has to offer.
- There is something about the outdoors that boosts self esteem, raises confidence and leaves you feeling better about yourself and the world. Studies show that kids feel more confident in themselves after spending time in the wild looking at plants and trees.
- There’s nothing like some time in the wild yonder to clear out the cobwebs in your brain! Nature time has been shown to result in better cognitive function, which is great for when you need to shake that blah feeling that’s clouding your day.
- Thanks to a variety of benefits nature bestows, academic performance has been shown to improve with exposure to nature as well. Maybe I didn’t notice any direct grade effects of sitting under a great old tree on the university green, but I’m sure that post-calculus lecture ritual helped in some way, if not just to relax me enough to do well in my next class.
- Nature facilitates social interaction, helping create new or better friendships and improving social ties. It’s much easier to talk to someone walking side-by-side outdoors, not to be overheard by anyone besides the birds, and having the occasional duck or flower to comment on, than when you’re across the table from them. Possible common interests abound in nature. Studies show time in the wild during the school day improves children’s relationships with their teachers and classmates. Combine that with better academic performance and it’s worth the walk!
- Nature provides inspiration. I get most of my ideas when I’m out hiking or wandering through a grassland. There is enough quiet for thinking and enough stimulation to inspire a giant mind map of thoughts and ideas.
- When I say I get most of my ideas outdoors, I mean most of my best ideas, whether it’s for an article, painting or beyond. Spending time outdoors breeds creativity. Nature is packed with awe-inspiring beauty and inspiration, gives you mental boosts and time to think. Creativity is a natural by-product of interacting with it.
- One of the more obvious positive effects of nature time is the physical activity and exercise. I can’t help but get more out of a walk than I’d planned to, especially when it comes to exercise, because something interesting always draws me to walk farther or higher.
- There are endless opportunities for knowledge and skill development outdoors. Climbing? Foraging? Swimming? Birdwatching? No matter the activity, there’s always something to do and learn out there. Spending time immersed in the outdoors never fails to teach you something, even if its how to paddle a canoe, developing balance on a trail or how to track wildlife.
- Spend some time with Mother Nature and she could take care of your headache. It’s been shown exposure to green spaces reduces migraines.
- Why do you care about nature and the environment, even if just a little part of it? Most likely your passion is positively correlated with natural experiences. Visible reminders of the Earth’s amazing features, such as glaciers, the salmon run, butterflies hatching or a simple bead of dew on the tip of a blade of grass help create a combined sense of wonder and protectiveness. There’s even a term for it: biophilia, which is our inner desire to connect with the wild and what it contains.
- Nature inspires feelings of awe. You know that feeling: the unpredictable sunburst of amazement, of wanting to show everyone in the world what you are seeing and not having the words to describe it. If your world is feeling lackluster, you might just need a little nature to put the sparkle back into the world.
- For people with medically unexplained physical symptoms, such as chronic pain, finding relief or a cure can be frustratingly impossible. The good news is some nature time may help, as studies show decreases in symptoms in people suffering from unexplained symptoms.
- It is known that a view of nature from the hospital helps with recovery from surgery, and once a patient is home, time spent outdoors has a positive effect on recovery time as well.
- Walking or simply spending time outside apparently reduces pain, with studies showing that less painkillers are needed with a view of nature. Whether it’s because of the distraction or for an actual physiological reason, its worth trading discomfort and hurt for wild experiences.
- More time outside could mean better and longer sleep. Spending time out there helps reset your circadian rhythm, and the involuntary relaxation, stress reduction and shift into parasympathetic activity doesn’t hurt your chances at a good night’s sleep either.
- Giving your eyes a break from screens is like a walk in the woods for them. Allowing them to defocus on vast landscapes, focus on intricate details and follow the movement of a bird or butterfly through the trees has benefits extend beyond eyes themselves, because natural sights have a positive effect on several other physiological and psychological things. Plus, studies show time spent outdoors reduces nearsightedness in children.
- It can be hard for us Canadians to get enough of essential Vitamin D during certain times of year, but getting out rain or snow can help you get a small dose when your skin is craving it the most.
- Pregnant? Improved maternal immune function resulting from nature is linked with good birth outcomes, including healthy birth weight and reduced risk of preterm birth.
- Research is ongoing in studies about how nature can help prevent cancer. Our immune system’s natural killer cells, responsible for protecting us from cancer, viruses and more, are increased with time spent outdoors.
- Nature is beautiful. Even if there weren’t 39 other great reasons to get outside more, the beauty of nature stimulating every one of your senses is worth it.
PS. Why 40? Because Explore Magazine is 40 Years Old!
In Spring of 1981, the first issue of Explore Magazine went up for sale on newsstands around Canada.
Forty years later, explore is still on newsstands coast-to-coast; we’ve expanded to create a unique subscription box, adventure-focused podcast and a trusted online magazine, drawing in readers from around the world.
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