Nature Inspired Health Boosts

NatureSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor

Spending days in front of computer screens under fluorescent lighting and evenings in front of television screens can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, depressed and lethargic. Recent studies have shown that time spent in the great outdoors boosts mood and overall health and positively impacts our long-term wellbeing. Turns out, nature is so good for us that doctors worldwide have begun prescribing time in nature as a means of improving health. Similar to the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise, researchers have now quantified 120 minutes of natural sunlight and surroundings each week as beneficial to health. Any amount of time in nature, from a strenuous hike to a stroll in the park to a picnic by a lake, is all viewed as effective for improving overall mental outlook.

Incorporating time in nature as part of a lifestyle wellness plan is considered ideal. Growing research in the scientific field of ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between the amount of time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It appears that the therapeutic benefits of interaction with natural spaces has a powerful effect on our mental state, as well as a positive impact on blood pressure and cortisol levels. Our connection to nature is so strong that even listening to recorded nature sounds or looking at pictures of natural settings can result in an outwardly directed focus of attention, similar to a relaxed state of restful daydreaming.

In Japan, forest bathing, defined as a short, leisurely visit to a forest, is regarded as natural aromatherapy and is recognized as a relaxation and stress management activity. Known as “Shinrinyoku,” a forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest for respite and recreation while breathing in wood essential oils, such as pine and limonene, antimicrobial volatile organic compounds present in trees. A series of studies involving male and female Japanese adults investigated the effects of forest bathing on the immune system. The researchers found that those who participated in a 3day/2 night trip to a forest area significantly increased natural killer cell (NK) activity, while urinary adrenaline and noradrenaline significantly decreased.

Moreover, the increased NK activity lasted for more than 30 days after the trip, suggesting that a forest bathing trip once a month would enable individuals to maintain a higher level of NK activity. The findings indicate that forest bathing has beneficial effects on human immune function. NK cells, a type of white blood cell and a component of the innate immune system, play a major role in the host-rejection of tumor and virally infected cells, suggesting that forest bathing may have a preventative effect on cancer generation and development. Further, forest bathing’s association with relaxation and decreased stress appears to stabilize autonomic nervous activity. Forest bathing trips were found to increase vigor and decrease anxiety, depression and anger.

  • Several studies have shown that nature walks have memory promoting effects that walks in urban environments may not.
  • Time spent outdoors is associated with decreased heart rate, as well as lowered levels of stress hormones and inflammation.
  • By helping to eliminate mental fatigue, enjoying the outdoors appears to provide a mental boost.
  • Exercising in natural surroundings is associated with improved self-esteem and mood, as well as increased ability to focus.
  • Research shows that those who exercise outdoors are more likely to maintain their exercise routine as opposed to those who exercise at the gym.
  • Nature therapy may also improve focusing ability and boost creative thinking and problem solving performance.

Although many enjoy spending time outdoors, the average American spends nearly 93 percent of their time indoors. If you’re lucky enough to live near a forest, work on getting out and taking advantage of the health benefits. Not living within close proximity of a forest doesn’t matter, as living near any greenspace is associated with a 12 percent lower mortality rate and lower prevalence of disease, including cancer, lung and kidney disease. ‘Greenspace’ is defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, as well as urban greenspaces, which include parks and street greenery. According to global data, populations with better access to greenspace are more likely to report overall good health and long-term wellbeing.

Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature.
It’s official – spending time outside is good for you.
5 Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature.
How Much Nature Is Enough? 120 Minutes a Week, Doctors Say.
Being outside can improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure – here are 12 science-backed reasons to spend more time outdoors.
Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.
Natural Killer Cell.