With more sunshine — and temperatures more consistently above 70 — comes more opportunity to be outdoors. While many bemoan the heat and humidity, others live all year for the chance to spend as many hours as possible in the open air.
Particularly if you live in an urban center, where you may be more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses, making time to get out in the greenery (and the sun and the wind!) can be tremendously therapeutic. Time in nature can boost mood, productivity, physical health, social connections and overall happiness by reducing stress and negativity.
Whether you’re running, hiking, cycling or just soaking up the great outdoors, here are some of the benefits you can expect to experience from spending more time in nature.
Natural stress release
Being in nature has been shown to help individuals cultivate a more positive attitude and sensory awareness, which can further generate an awareness of one’s own emotions and emotional triggers to better mind and moderate them. Spaciousness, especially when it means separation from our stressors, can be an effective stress-management tool: all the more so when we’re surrounded by trees, listening to birdsong instead of the bing-bong text message sound on our phones. Plus, being around plants has been shown to lower levels of cortisol and blood pressure, good indicators of increased stress.
According to a study conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation in Canada, where participants spent thirty minutes in nature each day for thirty straight days, spending more time outdoors significantly increases people’s sense of well-being. Being outdoors is naturally energizing (it’s our natural habitat!), as it taps into an ancient part of the brain that needs to focus when surrounded by nature. It’s a different kind of focus than being in the concrete jungle, one that allows us to hear and see the little things we might not otherwise notice. This shift of thinking can reset the mind and body, leaving us feeling more energized and alive when we return to less natural environments.
Participants in the Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Challenge also reported fewer sleep disturbances. Not only does the activity and fresh oxygen associated with being outdoors prime the body for sleep, a calmer mind is more likely to drift off easily at the end of the day.
Apart from the break from computer screens and social media being in nature provides, a study out of Stanford University showed that brain undergoes noticeable changes after just 90 minutes outdoors. Participants who walked in a quiet, tree-lined park showed less activity in the part of the brain responsible for ‘morbid rumination’, or brooding: the endless loop of worry and regret we dwell on about everything we think is wrong in our lives. Compared with participants who walked along a busy highway, the nature group showed a marked decrease in this negative activity and reported improved outlooks on their future. Just 90 minutes? Sounds like something we could make time for.
Stronger immune system
Another gift from nature? Phytoncides. These compounds are produced by plants to protect them from insects and rot, and there is evidence to suggest these airborne chemicals benefit humans, too! Forest, parks and other places with ample greenery can increase immune function, which may mean fewer sniffles this season (and next winter!).
Improved memory and cognition
Because nature encourages the brain to enter a state similar to meditation, there is evidence to suggest is improves memory and cognition. Just twenty minutes surrounded by plants showed improved scores on memory tests according to a study at the University of Michigan. This might translate to improved performance at work, longer-term memory preservation and more creative thinking.