Humans are designed to be outdoors. Our brains are wired to respond to the smells, sights, and sensations we receive there. When we spend daily time outside it makes us healthier and happier. Want to start walking in nature more often? Here are a few facts to inspire you.
Stress decreases in nature
Cortisol is a hormone often used as a stress marker by doctors (too much means you are too stressed) and studies have found that students who had spent time in the forest had a lower level of cortisol than their counterparts that stayed indoors. Office workers who have a view of nature out of their window or through a skylight report higher job satisfaction and lower stress levels and hospital patients who have a view of nature actually heal more quickly. Stressful states can be relieved by “forest therapy”.
Short-term memory increases
In a study done by University of Michigan one group of participants took a walk around an arboretum (a zoo for trees) and the other half walked down a paved city street; when both groups did a memory test before and after their walks, those who had walked among the trees did almost 20% better then they had done before they had gone for their walk. The results were not the same in the city walking group.
Mental energy is refreshed and restored
When you take a 15 minute stroll in nature or gaze at the stars from your rooftop your slow down and feel a connection to something bigger. This sense of connection helps stabiliaze moods and reduce stress. When you leave nature you feel restored, refreshed and vital. A recent study found that walks in the forest were especially associated with decreased levels of anxiety. Clinically this can be used to supplement existing treatments for major depressive disorder. Another study employed land-use data and satellite technology to discover that access to green space within a half mile of one’s residence is associated with improved mental health.
Thinking becomes sharper and concentration improves
We know that time in nature is restorative but it also improves concentration; the effect on attention of nature is so strong that children with ADHD were found to have been been more able to concentrate after just 20 minutes outside. When college students were asked to repeat sequences of numbers by memory they were much more accurate at performing this task after they had a 20 minute walk in nature. One of the reasons for this might be transient hypofrontality. EEG studies show that creative individuals exhibit transient hypofrontality when engaged in the solution of creative problems. This means that the brain is actually using different areas to think through problems when you are outside versus inside.
In a study done by David Suzuki it was found that when participants spent 30 minutes each day in nature, the results were increased personal well-being and happiness. One of Dr. Suzuki’s associates, physician Eva Selhub, explored this connection between nature, human health and happiness in her book Your Brain, On Nature: The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness and vitality. (I recommend reading it at the beach or on a park bench.)
Barriers Break Down
A report published in Lancet about a nationwide study in the United Kingdom discovered green space is a profound equalizer of health inequalities. When low income areas were associated with little access to green space, there were significant health disparities between lower and higher socio-economic brackets. This gap was bridged when low-income individuals had access to green space close to home and spent time in it daily. Nature helped to fill in the broad health divide between the affluent and the at-risk.
In today’s climate where we often define ourselves by how busy we are, spending a little time in nature each day goes a long way towards increased vitality and it will help your brain to keep you happier, healthier and more productive.