There’s no question that spending time in the great outdoors can be an invigorating, rejuvenating, and restorative experience. Growing evidence confirms that improved mental health is associated with spending time in green spaces, such as backyards, parks, gardens, the seaside, countryside, mountains or woods. Time spent in natural environments is linked to lowered stress levels and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, and is correlated with improved cognition in children with attention deficit disorder. It’s well known that exercise improves physical and psychological wellbeing. It appears that the synergistic combination of physical activity and the great outdoors may provide additional wellness benefits.
Studies support an association between improved health outcomes and the amount of one’s surrounding green space. Hospitalized patients have faster recovery times when they can see trees outside their windows as opposed to the exterior wall of another building. With our hectic and frequently constrained lives, we often forget that we are a part of nature. As natural environments are reduced by development, and people migrate from suburbs to urban areas, we are more likely to seclude ourselves even more. Yet, the “biophilia hypothesis,” popularized by, Biophilia, a book authored by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, suggests that humans instinctively possess a tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
From the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the present day, humans have possessed an innate connection and affection for the natural world. Spending more time in nature and less time in man-made environments positively effects our stress levels, mood and cognitive performance. Nature’s restorative and restful properties stem from the fact that nature doesn’t require the “directed” or conscious attention that is necessary for prolonged cognitive activity. As nature distracts us from modern stressors, “undirected” attention, or the subconscious, takes over, allowing us to recharge our batteries and from recover mental fatigue.
It appears that one’s environment either increases or reduces one’s stress. At any given time, our environment affects our mood and the function of our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. The stress of an unpleasant atmosphere can make one feel anxious, depressed, moody or uncomfortable, which in turn can raise our blood pressure and heart rate, induce muscle tension and suppress immune function. Being in nature reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, heart rate and tension, helps us cope with pain and discomfort, and gives rise to more pleasant feelings. Studies have shown that time in nature or even viewing scenes of nature is associated with a positive mood, psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness and vitality.
Known as green exercise, outdoor activities appear more beneficial to mental health than indoor exercise, and may have a greater impact on psychological health. A review of studies that compared indoor to outdoor activity showed that exercising in a green environment results in greater feelings of positive engagement and revitalization. Outdoor activity might be considered nature’s therapy, as it provides some of the best all-around health benefits. These include: improved mood, heightened self-esteem, positive behavioral changes and a greater feeling of wellbeing. If you are looking to reduce stress and mental fatigue, a nice long walk in the woods, or a nap in a backyard hammock, may signal the beginning of an essential and life-long beneficial relationship with the great outdoors.
The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710158/
The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4204431/
The Positive Effects of Nature on Well Being: Evolutionary Biophilia. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/why-nature-positively-affects-your-well-being-and-how-to-apply-it/
How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing? https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing
What Impact Does the Environment Have on Us? https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/healing-environment/what-impact-does-environment-have-us