We’ve all heard that spending time outdoors is good for you. There are the obvious benefits of getting more vitamin D, breathing in some fresh air and getting your blood flowing with a brisk walk or jog.
But what if I told you that those benefits are just the tip of the iceberg?
Researchers are gathering a growing body of evidence proving that nature provides significant mental and physical benefits beyond the obvious ones.
In this post, I’m going to tell you about 7 scientifically-backed benefits that make a compelling case for all us to spend more time in nature.
Before we get started, I want to make a confession. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding the outdoors. I was happy to go to a park on a warm sunny day, but it seemed pointless when the weather was cold, wet or gloomy.
And maybe that wouldn’t have been a problem if I lived in a warm climate with plenty of sunshine. But I live in the Seattle area; a place that on average, gets 226 days of heavy cloud a year with plenty of rain.
These days, I get outside every single day rain or shine. I go for walks or I just sit quietly and take in the sights and sounds of nature. It’s almost become like a drug for me. I feel better and happier the more time I spend in nature.
Here are the benefits of nature that convinced me to get outside more often.
Benefits of Spending Time In Nature
1. Boost Your Creativity & Problem Solving Skills
Want to boost your creativity? Put your phone away and get into nature.
Most of us want to be more creative. We want to build a more successful business, get promoted at work or be a better parent. A creative mind can mean the difference between mediocre and outstanding results in life.
Creativity can also help you with problem-solving. The more creative you are, the more likely you are to come up with fresh and innovative solutions.
You may be thinking “I’m just not a very creative person”.
No matter what your current creativity level, nature holds the answer to how you can boost your creativity and problem-solving skills.
In 2012, a team of cognitive neuroscientists conducted a study with hikers who went out for 4 days of immersion in nature. The study found that hikers showed a 50% improvement in creativity and problem-solving tasks after 4 days.
The hikers were also disconnected from technology during that time, which the researchers believed was also a factor behind their improved performance.
In other words, you’ll see better benefits of being in nature if you turn off your phone and disconnect from technology for a while.
The next time you’re struggling with a problem, get into nature and take a long aimless walk. You may just solve your problem by the time you get back.
2. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.
Elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can make you feel anxious, irritable and even lead to depression. And in the long-term, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity (just to name a few issues).
Spending time in nature can help to lower stress levels.
In a 2014 study in Japan, researchers conducted an experiment involving 420 people across 35 different forests. After spending time in these natural surroundings, the participants showed a 12.4% decrease in cortisol levels.
Additionally, the participants in the study also enhanced their parasympathetic nervous activity by 55%, indicating that the subjects in the forest were a lot more relaxed than their urban counterparts.
It’s not clear how nature helps to reduce stress levels, but there’s compelling evidence that nature helps people to feel less stressed.
Next time you feel stressed, just spend some quiet time sitting in a garden or park. It might be the smartest and healthiest way to reduce your stress.
3. Become Happier
Not only can nature help reduce stress levels, it can make you happier.
The rapid increase in urban populations across the world is seen as a potential threat to mental health and wellbeing.
Could it be that living in urban areas is making us unhappier?
In 2013, a study in the United Kingdom looked at 10,000 individuals to explore the relationship between urban green areas and mental health. The study found that on average, people had fewer mental health issues and were happier when living in urban areas with more green space.
But that doesn’t mean we need to pack our belongings and move to a forest. We just need to find more ways to connect with nature every day.
In 2015, The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with the University of Derby ran a “30 Days Wild” campaign which 12,400 people signed up for.
The participants were asked to do “something wild” for 30 consecutive days. It could be as simple as having a meeting outdoors, turning off electronic devices while outdoors or walking barefoot on grass.
The study found that people who took part had increased levels of happiness and a better connection to nature.
No matter where you live, there are probably simple ways that you can also do “something wild’ every day – even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Starting your own “30 Days Wild” challenge might just make you happier.
4. Improve Your Cognitive Functioning
Remember the last time you had an ‘aha’ moment?
You were just washing the dishes and suddenly you had a great idea or came up with a solution to a problem you’d been struggling with for days?
The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain right behind your forehead. It is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making and producing your ‘aha’ moments of insight.
A 2015 study at Stanford had two groups of participants walk for 90 minutes. One group walked in a green nature area while the other group walked along a busy road.
At the end of the walk, the researchers found little difference in physiological conditions but noticed significant changes in the brain.
The participants who walked in a green nature area showed reduced neural activity in the subgenus prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that’s linked to negative emotions and mental health illness.
Spending time in nature can be like a vacation for your prefrontal cortex. And your brain will thank you for that in more ways than we can probably imagine.
5. Increase Your Energy Levels
Want more energy? Just imagine yourself in nature.
We all know intuitively that spending time in nature can help us feel better. We usually feel energized after a nice walk or run.
But did you know that you can increase your energy levels just by thinking about nature? Sounds hard to believe right?
A study by the University of Rochester, sampled the effects of nature on 537 students. In one experiment they had students take a 15-minute walk either indoor or outside along a river. A second experiment had students just look at pictures of either buildings or landscapes. And a third experiment had students just imagine themselves in a variety of indoor or outdoor situations.
The study found that students who spent time outdoors or simply imagined themselves in nature had higher energy levels.
According to the researchers, spending just 20 minutes a day outdoors can boost your energy levels.
6. Get a Better Night’s Sleep
How many nights of poor sleep did you get last month?
A lack of sleep can be a bigger problem than just feeling tired. In the short term, it can affect your mood and make you feel irritable. But if left unchecked, a lack of sleep over the long term can lead to all kinds of health problems such weight gain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular sleep, and depression.
If you’re getting poor sleep, you may be spending too much time indoors.
A study by the University of Illinois looked at 255,171 US adults to learn if there was a connection between insufficient sleep and access to green space.
The study found people who reported over 21 days of poor sleep in a month, consistently had less access to green space and nature compared to people who reported less than one week of poor sleep.
Spending time nature might be just what you need to get a better night’s sleep.
7. Improve Your Healing Potential
Imagine if there was a pill for disease prevention and healing your body.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take pop that pill every day and improve your chances of better health and wellbeing?
There is such a pill and it’s called nature.
A study published in 1984 in the journal Science, demonstrated that looking at nature can sometimes speed up the healing process from surgery.
The researchers reviewed medical records of surgery patients in a Pennsylvania hospital. The found that patients assigned rooms with windows that looked out on a natural scene, recovered faster than patients who had similar rooms but with windows facing a brick building.
It’s unlikely that spending time in nature will cure a disease, but there is plenty of evidence that it can boost your immune system and reduce stress.
Even if these findings seem a far-fetched to you, ask yourself this one question:
Is there a downside to spending a few minutes in nature every day?
Worst case, you’ll get more vitamin D, take in some fresh air and feel better.
That’s a downside I can happily live with.
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to spending time in nature. If you don’t have access to nature on your doorstep, then it’s worth making time to walk or drive to a local park.
Create a habit of getting of getting into nature every day, rain or shine. Once you get into it, you may even learn to love the wet gloomy days like I did.
Try gardening, walking, hiking or biking. Or just sit outside for a few minutes every day and notice the greenery around you, even if it’s just a single flower.
You have nothing to lose and a potentially a lot to gain.
How has connecting with nature helped to improve the quality of your life?