Living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide ranging health benefits, from improved physical and mental health, to improved social connectivity.
Multiple studies have indicated effects such as a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, decreased muscle tension, decreased production of stress hormones, as well as decreased incidences of cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety and other illnesses. At the same time, exposure to nature results in improved immune and healing functions, increased creativity, improvements in focus and cognitive function and improved sleep patterns. Our ability to exhibit caring behaviours is also enhanced. Exposure to nature is connected to increased life expectancy.
How does nature accomplish all this? Various studies have been done which point to a cornucopia of mechanisms. In natural environments we are exposed to a diverse variety of bacteria which benefit the immune system.They also decrease inflammation which is implicated in many modern diseases. Trees produce phytoncides, organic compounds, which increase our level of white blood cells to help fight off disease and infections, as well as providing antibacterial properties.
Production of natural killer cells, which protect from cancer and viral infections, is boosted along with other infection fighting T cell production. Sunlight causes our body to produce Vitamin D from cholesterol. The negative ion rich oxygen found in nature has a relaxing effect on the body. It switches us into the parasympathetic mode of rest, digest and heal, rather than the fright, fight or flight mode of the sympathetic system, which shuts down the immune system.. Being in nature is said to increase our sense of awe, leading to positive, healing emotions.
Forest bathing is an increasingly common prescription in Japan. Friluftsliv, or free air living, is a Norwegian concept incorporating the healing notion of connecting with nature as something bigger than ourselves. An expanded sense of awe is thought to enhance feelings of well being and good mental health, which is, of course, connected to our physical health and our social health.
So how do we make the connection? Go outside. Garden. Spend time in green and natural spaces, even if we have to keep 6 feet apart. Pictures and documentaries of nature have a positive effect. A view of nature from a sick bed improves healing outcomes. If you can’t get out, practise visualizing those natural settings which increase your sense of calm and well being.
How much do we need? Studies have concluded that as little as two hours a week in nature gives a positive response, but that can be spread out in smaller doses as you are able. Of course, more is better!
Nature heals; nature soothes; nature restores; nature connects. Get your dose today!