BY: JESSICA BEUKER
1. Taking a walk in the forest will lower your stress levels
The Japanese practice Shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to forest bathing, has been proven to have a positive effect on health. Essentially just going for a walk in the woods, forest bathing promotes lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, lower sympathetic nerve activity (the system responsible for stimulation of the body’s fight-or-flight response) and higher parasympathetic nerve activity (the system responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” activities) than urban areas, according to Treehugger. Key to the experience of forest bathing is the inhalation of wood essential oils. According to Alive, this combined with visual, auditory and other sensory stimuli makes the experience overflow with incredible health benefits.
2. Spending time in natural green spaces fosters creativity
Being indoors and constantly plugged in means we always have something pulling for our attention. According to Greater Good, researcher David Strayer of the University of Utah believes that being in nature restores depleted attention circuits, which makes us more open to creativity and problem solving. “When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources,” he says. The low engagement of being surrounded by nature encourages a more open, meditative mindset—this is when bursts of creativity usually strike.
3. Nature makes you more kind and more generous
A series of experiments published in 2014 studied the impacts of nature on the willingness to be generous, trusting and helpful toward others. According to Greater Good:
“As part of their study, the researchers exposed participants to more or less subjectively beautiful nature scenes (whose beauty levels were rated independently) and then observed how participants behaved playing two economics games—the Dictator Game and the Trust Game—that measure generosity and trust, respectively. After being exposed to the more beautiful nature scenes, participants acted more generously and more trusting in the games than those who saw less beautiful scenes, and the effects appeared to be due to corresponding increases in positive emotion.”
A few other studies were carried out, and altogether they concluded that nature increased positive emotion, likely by inspiring awe, which leads to pro-social behaviours.
4. Fresh air and sunlight improve sleep
Our sleep patterns are regulated by an internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythms are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule. Therefore, spending too much time inside can alter our circadian rhythms and disrupt our natural sleep patterns. According to Appalachian Trials, if you’re having trouble sleeping, early morning sunlight exposure has been shown to help recalibrate the body’s sleep cycles. Furthermore, getting some fresh air will do wonders for your sleep and your health. This is true even in large, busy cities. According to Greenguard, the air in our homes, schools and offices—and the places most people spend 90 per cent of their time—can be two to five (and in some cases 100) times more polluted than outdoor air.
5. Being outdoors makes you feel alive and energetic
We get more energy from being outside, as it helps to relieve the everyday stresses of our overscheduled lives. There is already an abundance of research that shows us that nature keeps us both physically and psychologically healthy. Even just hugging a tree —literally—has been known to provide a happiness boost. Knowing this should encourage people to spend time outdoors, a free and convenient resource. These findings should also push us to act now and lend a hand in preserving our wilderness spaces and parks, as our reliance on them is vital to our health.