The Case For
Written By: Madeline Cheney
We all know it’s good to get fresh air, spend some time outside, and disconnect from our increasingly busy lives. People don’t generally question that, but most also don’t fully understand that being in nature is not just “good," it’s necessary for health – both mental and physical.
The case for spending time in nature is strong. Studies have shown that spending time in nature decreases heart rate and increases immunity. After 15 minutes in nature, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are reduced, after being outside for 45 minutes, cognitive abilities improve, and after being outside for 90 minutes, individuals start to lose their preoccupation with their own problems and feel more connected to people around them. Put simply, nature makes us think beyond ourselves and grounds us. Being outside has proven effective for the treatment of a variety of health issues from ADHD to PTSD. Furthermore, not spending time outside is detrimental to health and linked to many adverse outcomes. Because of this, one cannot decide they don’t want or need the health benefits from spending time in nature and expect to have a neutral outcome. If people do not spend an adequate amount of time in nature, they will face negative consequences.
SPEND AT LEAST FIVE HOURS EACH MONTH OUTSIDE
Everything from being exposed to the natural essential oils found in plants, to the sound of water and birds contributes to the positive response we experience from being in nature. Our bodies are programmed to respond positively to it. For example, the sights of nature are very calming to us because of the fractal patterns found repeatedly throughout. Fractals are a mathematical description for patterns in which the parts of the whole repeat in different scales throughout. Fractals are found in the vein patterns in leaves to the design of a tree itself, with the trunk stemming off into smaller and smaller branches.
They are found throughout many more natural phenomena, including crystal growth and galaxy formation, the ubiquity of fractals in the natural world is utterly astounding. As our eyes take in these fractal patterns, our brains create alpha waves, which relax us because of our biological adaptation to recognize and easily process fractal patterns. This is just one example of the complex physiological response our bodies have in response to nature. But ultimately, we don't need to understand the science totally – we just have to make sure we get outside to reap the benefits.
Interestingly, modern technology has so far been unsuccessful in recreating the benefits derived from being in nature. Virtual reality programs designed to simulate experiences with highly lifelike accuracy, such as walking in the woods, do not provide the same health benefits as actually walking in the woods. In a time full of “life hacks” and shortcuts, we just can’t hack Mother Nature when it comes to this.
2020 has shaped up to be a pretty stressful year for people across the globe. While the weather is warmer this summer, take some time to focus on being in nature and continue this habit throughout the year. Even if you can only spare 15 minutes, you will at least be able to reduce your stress level.
BEING IN NATURE IS NOT JUST “GOOD," IT’S NECESSARY
However, not all outdoor activities are enjoyable for everyone. If you hate camping, don’t go camping! Try to create experiences in which you are fully immersed and energized by what you are doing – these types of experiences are known in psychology as "flow experiences." Maybe for you that means hiking, or maybe that means just sitting in a park. By creating flow experiences for yourself, you will increase the amount of enjoyment you get from being in nature, as well as the likelihood that you will continue to spend time outside.
Investing in your health by spending time in nature will make you better equipped to deal with life’s stressors. You’ll be able to think clearer, feel calmer, and increase your overall sense of well-being. The same researchers who have extensively studied the effects of nature recommend spending at least five hours each month outside, just over one hour per week. Doing this will increase your overall happiness and provide lasting benefits over the course of your life as you continue to spend time in nature.Prev Article