One thing you’ll see a lot on this site–in fact, its raison d’être–is the idea that nature is good for you. And indeed many people will report that they feel better after a weekend camping, or at least a few hours spent wandering a lovely green park. But what’s actually going on in your mind and body when you get outside? Here are just a few of the beneficial effects you may be experiencing:
- A decrease in blood flow to parts of the brain that fuel rumination. Rumination is what happens when you can’t get your mind to stop chewing on something negative or worrisome, and is particularly common in people experiencing depression. (Source.)
- A 20% increase in memory performance, attention, and other improvements in cognitive function. It’s also connected to a lowered rate of ADHD in children, and lowered symptoms in people with ADHD. (Source, source, source, source.)
- A boost in your immune system, to include increasing white blood cells. (Source.)
- Improved vision, particularly in children. (Source.)
- Other positive physical effects, to include a drop in the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and less activity from the sympathetic nervous system along with a drastically increased response from the parasympathetic nervous system, all of which indicate relaxation and lowered stress. Other preventative health effects include a decrease in various factors that can contribute to long-term health problems. (Source ,source, source.)
- At the workplace, a view of a natural area can decrease work-related stress and increase job satisfaction, while in hospitals exposure to nature can improve recovery times. And both in prison and after release, nature can help convicted criminals both survive their incarceration and reduce recidivism later. (Source, source, source.)
- Better creativity, to include in problem-solving situations. (Source.)
- Greater feelings of awe, which inspires a person to have a deeper emotional connection with their environment and experience, as well as the perception of being part of something greater than themselves. In fact, one study showed that nature consistently provoked awe more than any other single stimulus. (Source, source.)
- Overall better mental health, whether with a diagnosed mental illness or not. (Source, source.)
- Decreased risk of early death, affecting multiple health factors that can shorten one’s lifespan. (Source, source, source.)
Obviously your mileage may vary, especially if you suffer from seasonal allergies, live in an area plagued by pigeon-sized mosquitoes, or it just happens to be unpleasant weather outside right this moment. But if you can adjust for some of nature’s discomforts and allow yourself to really enjoy the experience, getting outside may be one of the best things you can do to improve your health on all levels.
For more information, please see Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, and The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Also of note is the extensive research bibliography on this study of nature’s beneficial properties.