On April 22, individuals, companies, and organizations around the world will take action as part of Earth Day, an event devoted to recognizing and fighting for environmental concerns. Whether you’re an environmentalist or you barely recycle, we all can agree that we do reap a lot of benefits from a healthy planet. However, in our busy, technology-focused lives, it can be easy to lose sight of everything Mother Nature does for us.
Just being outside in nature has a variety of positive impacts on our mental and physical health. After participants in a nature challenge spent a half hour somewhere green every day for a month, they reported a better overall sense of well-being, more energy, less stress and a better mood.
It’s nothing new in Japan, where the concept of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, has been a widely used method of health prevention since the 1980’s. Forest bathing refers to the act of surrounding oneself in nature and taking the experience in with all the senses. One can bathe themselves in the forest simply by sitting quietly in a wooded area.
Ready for some Shinrin-yoku? Here are six amazing benefits of spending time in nature:
1. NATURE CAN REDUCE THE PHYSICAL SIGNS OF STRESS
Spending time in nature triggers a physiological response within us—one that actually reduces the physical signs of stress. Studies have shown that time spent in parks, forests, and other green spaces can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and even the level of stress hormone in the body. Researchers credit this effect in part to the reduction of noise pollution in green areas. There’s a reason people listen to the recorded sounds of babbling brooks and chirping birds to relax.
2. NATURE CAN EASE DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Just as nature can reduce physical stress, it also offers some incredible benefits to mental stress. Living near and spending time in green spaces has been shown to aid mental health by decreasing depression and anxiety. One study found that people living within one kilometer of a green space were less depressed and anxious than those who lived further away from parks and wooded areas.
3. NATURE CAN STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Studies have shown that people who spent time in nature experienced an increase in a type of white blood cell that is vital to a well-functioning immune system, which means people who frequent green areas on a regular basis are less likely to get ill.
4. NATURE CAN INSPIRE EXERCISE
If you leave near parks and forests, you’re more likely to be physically active. One study discovered that the living in the vicinity of green spaces encouraged people to exercise, even if they’re weren’t exercising in that green space.
5. NATURE CAN BOOST CREATIVITY
If you’re looking to get your creative juices flowing, get outside! Researchers sent hikers into the woods for four days and tested their creative and problem-solving skills upon their return. After four days in nature, those abilities were significantly improved.
6. NATURE CAN ENCOURAGE BETTER SLEEP
Since we spend so much time in front of a screen, we’re exposed to a ton of artificial light. This can mess with melatonin, the hormone our bodies release when it gets dark. However, you can reset your internal clock with a weekend in the woods. One study looked at campers who spent a few nights in the forest. They fell asleep, woke earlier and experienced an increase in melatonin even after they returned home.
Now that you know how nature can help you, it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors. That doesn’t mean you have to embark on a hike down a wooded trail (though that’s definitely an option). Spending time in nature can be as simple as sitting beneath a tree outside on your lunch break, gardening in your yard or on your balcony, or taking a brief walk through a local park. Whichever way you get your nature time, just be sure to leave your phone turned off and your mind relaxed and tuned into nothing but the environment around you.