5 ways nature can keep you healthy

Top reasons why you should spend more time outdoors

|  Story by Laura Kiran |


We all have heard that spending time in nature can be good for us but here’s some top reasons why, and how a growing collection of research seems to be providing some proof:

1. Relieves Stress

Nature has a calming reaction, and more and more bodies of research are supporting that fact. While scientists are still working to totally understand the reasons why, the stress reducing effects of the outdoors can be seen in studies of those living closer to green space. According to a five-year study conducted by English researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School, city dwellers living near natural areas reported less mental distress than those who did not.

These results were true even after adjusting the researchers’ results for income, education and employment – factors which are also linked to a sense of well-being. Living closer to green space has also been correlated with fewer stress hormones circulating in the bloodstream. Maybe it’s because Zen moments are abundant in the outdoors. You just have to be open to noticing them.

2. Energizes the Body

If nature reduces our stress, then it also can help to energize the body. Being outdoors often naturally prompts us to take action to combat mental and emotional strain and its effects. Walking, jogging or bicycling, for example, don’t only keep us physically fit, but exercise in general can boost our energy levels.

What’s beneficial about moving around in nature as opposed to indoors? Nature provides a natural mood boost. Taking in some vitamin D from the sun is good for energy levels, not to mention the immune system and a whole host of other important physical functions.

Additionally, according to findings from a small body of research, exercising outdoors make actually make workouts easier. A study conducted by the University of Essex in England attested to the positive effects of the color green on exercising. Ratings of perceived exertion and mood disturbance were lower when subjects viewed a green filtered version of a video while cycling as compared to red and gray filters. Other studies have shown that exercising in natural environments can lead to greater feelings of revitalization compared to exercising indoors.

3. Aids in Healing and Staving Off Disease

It’s no surprise that less stressed, more positively energized individuals would be healthier. But hard evidence is beginning to add greater credence to the role nature plays in staying physically well. In 2009, Dutch researchers found that people living within a half mile of green space had fewer incidences of 15 diseases – including anxiety, heart disease and depression – when compared with those who had less immediate access to nature. Other studies have shown the benefits of even a window view of the outdoors, including patients recovering faster in hospitals. A study conducted by Japanese researchers found that a 15-minute walk in nature can make a notable difference in physiology, including a drop in blood pressure, heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol.

4. Resets the Mind

Nature not only can do wonders for our sense of well-being but for our cognition as well. Research done at Stanford University seems to suggest that being outdoors in what we perceive to be a favorable setting can switch our thoughts over for a time to focus on less demanding stimuli.

This, in turn, allows our brains to take a break and to recover from the “nervous irritation” of overscheduled lives. Moreover, Korean scientists studying brain activity in people viewing different images found that when subjects looked at scenes of nature, blood flow increased to the areas of the brain connected to emotion formation and processing, learning, and memory. Maybe that’s why there’s evidence that children who spend time in the outdoors or even have a view of nature from their classrooms seem to perform better in school than those who don’t.

5. Provides Opportunities for Recreation and Enjoyment

What could be healthier than taking some time out to have some fun, learn a new skill or just relax? Nature provides the perfect venue for activities that promote recreation, education and leisure, and the Forest Preserve District offers a wealth of opportunities and settings to meet a variety of interests. Check out our recreation page for the diversity of activities available to preserve visitors.

(Lead image by Chad Merda)

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