We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. — Henry David Thoreau
Increasing urbanization keeps moving us away from our evolutionary ancestors towards the hectic lifestyle of a concrete jungle. In fact, over 80% of the US population lives in urban areas, facing diminished possibilities for contact with nature. Numerous studies link the lack of time humans spend in natural settings to the top public health priorities of our time, such as stress, anxiety, depression, obesity, and heart disease.
Scientists have even come up with the term for this condition: nature deprivation. Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? The immediate question that comes to mind is “What should we do?!” Luckily, the right answer is the obvious one: we should go back to our roots (literally) and spend more time exposed to the natural world, appreciating and exploring nature! According to one study, spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature can boost both your mental AND physical health.
We bet you have noticed how your mood lifts after you have a walk alongside a sunny beach, or how energized you feel after having lunch in a green park, or how calm you become watching the stars somewhere in solitude while camping. That’s nature therapy in action, rejuvenating your body processes, charging your vital stores, and clearing up your mind and senses.
But although we all feel that spending time in nature is good for us, we may not always realize all the specific health benefits we’re getting from being in a natural environment. We wanted to dig into the key reasons why you NEED to spend more time in nature’s different forms, and how doing so may boost your overall health.
One of the main health benefits nature brings you is intense exposure to direct sun rays. Sunlight is the key factor supporting all vital processes on our planet, and scientifically it has a lot of benefits for human bodies.
Sunshine is the main provider of Vitamin D that helps your body to absorb more calcium, making your bones, joints, and dental health stronger. Plus, Vitamin D performs several roles to strengthen your immune system, as well as enhances blood circulation (which may lead to lower blood pressure).
Sunlight boosts your body’s level of serotonin (a hormone that improves your mood and helps you stay calm and focused), and regulates your circadian rhythm and melatonin level (this hormone is responsible for helping you sleep, reduce stress and combat depression and anxiety).
Daily exposure to the sun can really do wonders, but make sure that you’re sunbathing in rational amounts! Just ten to 20 minutes in the sun per day is enough to obtain the recommended dose of vitamin D, according to one study, and remember that wearing sunscreen is also critical.
Proximity to the ocean has a very positive impact on human health, scientists say. No one would ever argue that the closer you are to the ocean, the more energized you feel! Ocean air has extremely high concentrations of negative ions that accelerate your ability to absorb oxygen, which is vital for all body functions. Inhaling an ocean breeze can help balance your serotonin levels, raising your mood and releasing stress and fatigue. The rhythmic sound of waves pounding the shore may really lull your brain into a meditative state making you forget about everything troubling you!
Ocean water contains a huge supply of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids with antibiotic and antibacterial effects that help activate the body’s healing mechanisms and strengthen your immune responses. Rich in magnesium, it also relaxes your muscles and increases skin’s elasticity.
And finally, the seaside encourages physical activity. Swimming in the ocean provides you a full body workout, as nearly all of your muscles get to work. But even if you’re simply walking on the beach your muscles will have an extra challenge as they work to stabilize you in the sand.
In addition to bringing you the joy of seeing magnificent breathtaking views, snow-capped peaks and foggy summits may lead you to mental happiness and physical health, according to scientists. Being up in the mountains gives your lungs the chance to breathe in oxygen that is free of gasses or air pollution (which is especially great for those with acute respiratory symptoms and asthma). Pine – one of the more prevalent scents at high altitudes – is proven to decrease depression and stress. Lavender, frequently growing on mountain bases in certain climates, is known to promote good sleep, so take a good sniff as your hike ends.
Scientific research shows that life at high altitudes can lead to healthier hearts, as lower oxygen levels in mountain air stimulate the production of new blood vessels that may create new highways for blood flow into the heart. So, those who live up in the mountains have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and ischemic heart disease. Additionally, according to the studies, simply being at high altitudes can kickstart a weight loss process. For example, Colorado, noted for its vivid landscape of mountains and high plains, holds the nation’s lowest obesity rate at 23.8%.
Crystal clean water from mountain springs is known for its body purifying effects. It also contains higher concentrations of minerals like magnesium, calcium, sodium, and iron, which are beneficial to your health in the long term.
Throughout history, people went on mountain journeys to find inner peace. Mountain smells and sounds can soothe your nerves and remind you to slow down in your daily life. If you are feeling down, try a hike! Climbing a mountain will make your brain produce endorphins from feeling the exertion and adrenaline of climbing high, and help you really see the value and beauty of life.
When it comes to workouts, there are various healthy activities to do while being at the mountains. Hiking, climbing, biking, canoeing, skiing, snowboarding — it’s up to you!
A walk in the woods, surrounded by trees and wildlife, can leave you feeling restored and rejuvenated. In fact, even 20 minutes in a forested setting is enough to stimulate positive changes in your body, one study says. Forests play a major role in cleaning our air, and they contain a naturally higher concentration of oxygen than urban spaces do. While we inhale the fresh air, especially in an evergreen forest – a forest that contains trees like pine, cedar, spruce or fir – we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants produce to protect themselves from insects. Human bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells which react rapidly to virus-infected cells and tumor formation, and are crucial for our immune system. Studies show that increased natural cell activity can last for more than 30 days after a single trip to a forest.
Forest scents (essential oils of many plants and trees) help release stress as they are found to air the mood by decreasing stress-related hormone cortisol levels, which may also lead to lower blood pressure. Exposure to forests increases your energy, improves your brain activity, helps you maintain focus and regain memory.
To add some physical activity to your forest experience, go with a leisurely hike or feel fresh air running along a green forest path. Picking berries or collecting pretty leaves is also an effective form of exercise as it’s filled with sneaky squats and forward bends.
Deserts experience A LOT of sunny days per year! Soaking up Vitamin D and its many wonders (go to the ‘Sun’ chapter) is a major health advantage of choosing to spend time in the desert.
Additionally, deserts, with their hot temperatures and dry climate, may help combat chronic health issues like arthritis that are triggered by high humidity. A combination of the heat and sun helps loosen the muscles and joints, aiding in their movement and decreasing pain levels. It’s also proven that healing of wounds occurs faster in hot, arid climates, as reduced moisture in the air means a lessened risk of infection and inflammation.
And last, but not least, being in the desert means great opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and other active adventures. In a hot climate you are going to instantly sweat, ridding your body of toxins. Remember to drink enough water to stay hydrated!
Humans are daytime creatures, but there are some great natural pleasures that can be enjoyed only in the darkest night, like stargazing. Watching the stars is considered a form of mindful meditation, which is getting more and more popular, and it’s not hard to see why. When you look up at the stars, you’re entirely in the moment, and things around you start to fade into the background, bringing you enlightenment and peace. Getting a glimpse of the night sky helps you reconnect with nature, and reminds you that you’re a part of a large, infinite world. Whatever your worries are, as soon as you look to the stars your thoughts will get quiet, and the tension in your mind and body will start to loosen. Such a peaceful, reflecting state of mind and joy of contemplating the cosmos may even spark your creativity or kickstart new ideas of your life’s purpose!
Who doesn’t love adorable animals? Don’t forget that they can help you get closer to the natural world as well. According to this study, spending time outdoors with dogs or horses offers another way to manage stress, decreases anxiety, reduces symptoms of depression, helps you get rid of feelings of fear or worry, facilitates social interaction and creates positive emotional responses. If you can’t keep a pet at home, search for local spots where you can interact with animals, perhaps by volunteering at an animal shelter or at a local farm that offers horseback rides.
City environments are shortening our visual horizons, obscuring our view of the sky with the glare of office windows, blocking sunlight with skyscraper peaks, or blurring the stars with traffic lights. Making an effort to get out of the city, whether it’s to the ocean or a mountain valley, is critical to helping you experience the endless horizons of this huge world. Think about how often you feel energized, inspired, and simply great after a day or weekend spent out of the city. Remember, establishing a close relationship with nature is not just about planning an unforgettable vacation in a stunning location. It’s also about getting outside, wherever you are. If you really bring a sense of purpose to it, a nearby park or even a single tree can deliver a dose of nature treatment into your life.
Are you still sitting on your couch reading this on a screen? Head outdoors to enjoy the beauty of life! We won’t be offended at all – in fact, we’ll be so happy for you.
Go to dailyburn.com to discover more mindful practices to promote well-being.
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