For far too long, humans have considered themselves separate from nature. However, you and everyone else are an integral part of the larger planet Earth ecosystem, a whole globe teeming with life. You can see this dynamic at work in how time spent in Mother Nature heals, providing physiological perks and psychological benefits.
What can you hope to gain by reconnecting with the natural world? Here are eight benefits of nature and how it impacts your well-being.
How Does Nature Impact Our Well-Being?
Nature impacts human well-being in every way — physical, mental and the ethereal emotional/spiritual realm. Far from separate divisions, these aspects of self work together to create your total health portrait. A positive mental outlook helps overcome physical ailments. Conversely, modifying your diet, exercising, and managing stress promotes mental clarity and emotional resilience.
The Physiological Effects of Spending Time in Nature
Time spent outdoors helps your body make natural vitamin D. This nutrient is crucial for bone health and a strong immune response. Furthermore, evidence suggests that a deficiency can lead to depression-like symptoms.
Vitamin D production isn’t the only physical benefit of getting outdoors. Trees and plants emit phytoncides, chemicals that stimulate your immune response when you inhale them. Researchers found higher levels of vital immune cells among forest bathers. This benefit of nature to humans also does double duty. You know your mood decreases when you get sick, and missing a day or two of work can put some people behind on rent, increasing stress.
Psychological Benefits of Being in Nature
The psychological benefits of nature to humans go beyond feeling less depressed and anxious due to fewer physical issues. They also boost your mental health in the following eight ways.
1. Eases Stress
One of the easiest and best ways to bust stress is to go for a brief, mindful walk in nature. A simple stroll as you gaze at a beautiful vista slows you down enough to think, to become responsive instead of reactive in dealing with life’s stressors. It’s also sustainable, creates no emissions and doesn’t cost a dime.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, try a five-minute mindful walk outdoors if the weather permits. Mindfully tune into what it does to your mood and attitude.
2. Improves Focus and Concentration
Using the above trick during a hectic workday could lead to a more productive afternoon. A recent study on university staff members during the pandemic indicated that spending time outdoors protected them against some of the crisis’s adverse effects, particularly in improved mental health. The result was so profound that the study suggested alternative working arrangements in such areas.
Earlier research indicated that simply gazing at pictures of nature increased focus and concentration. A 2022 study backs this assertion. Participants viewed various scenes while hooked to an EEG, performing a cognitive task after each image series. Analysis of the EEG reading showed nature scenes increased alpha wave activity. These waves are associated with mental readiness, concentration and focus.
3. May Reduce Dementia Risk
Dementia may strike with aging, but the habits you acquire when you are younger influence your risk. A recent study suggests that spending more time outside may lower your chances of missing much of your golden years thanks to this disease. It also prevents the anxiety and depression that accompany memory loss.
Researchers examined 62 million Medicare beneficiaries surrounded by natural vegetation, park cover or blue space cover. Those in natural green environments were less likely to become hospitalized from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias or Parkinson’s disease, which also affects the central nervous system.
4. Encourages Social Interaction
Social interaction is a critical component of mental health. Loneliness can kill, increasing the chances of all-cause mortality. Unfortunately, many people become more isolated with age, as loved ones pass away and adult children move to different locations.
Getting outdoors encourages social interaction. Studies of dog walkers show they are three times more likely to know their neighbour’s than those without a pet. They also felt safer, a benefit that extended to those without four-legged friends, as these strolls provide more time for people to interact with their neighbours and recognize unusual or suspicious behaviour.
You don’t have to adopt a pup if your lease says, “No dogs allowed.” However, going for a daily outdoor walk without Fido in tow introduces you to your neighbours and opens doors to friendship. Most pet owners are friendly folks, anxious to say hello to a smiling face and receive compliments on their companions. From there, asking if they’d like to get tea sometime is a natural segue.
5. May Ease Schizophrenia Symptoms
Schizophrenia is more common than many people suspect, as the stigma prevents patients from sharing information about their diagnosis with folks outside of their immediate family.
This condition affects your amygdala, a part of the brain associated with instinctive and motivational behaviours and your fight-or-flight response. Recent research suggests that a one-hour walk in nature decreased amygdala activity in patients with schizophrenia and depression.
6. Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety may be the pandemic nobody discusses. Although rates of this mental disorder and depression climbed 25% during the recent pandemic, little subsequent increase in resources followed. That means many people with these conditions struggle alone, relying only on holistic interventions for help.
Spending time in nature eases stress, which often exacerbates depression by keeping your cortisol levels high. This hormone picks up where adrenaline leaves off but contributes to mental and physical health issues by raising inflammation levels.
Stress can also create a negative feedback loop. The initial stressor slightly elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, and your body interprets this speed-up as evidence for further panic, making you anxious. Getting outdoors interrupts this cycle and lowers your cortisol levels, helping you find relief.
7. Decreases Depression
Go outside on the next sunny day and lift your face to the sun. Mindfully explore your mood. Did you get a boost?
Getting outside, especially while doing an exercise like walking, stimulates several neurotransmitters associated with a positive mood. For example, dopamine increases. This “reward” chemical makes you feel good, reinforcing your desire to repeat a given behaviour. Fortunately, unlike alcohol or drugs, going outside won’t result in harmful side effects like addiction — although you might find it harder to stay indoors.
8. Provides a Sense of Connection
One reason for the increase in mental health disorders in recent years is how disconnected people feel from each other, society at large and something bigger than themselves. Many fall into “drone mode” — they go to work, come home and eat, sleep and then do it all again, all while having nagging doubts about whether the effort is worth it. As a result, they become despondent.
Going outside reminds you that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself. You are a part of this world, an integral part of the system. When you feel at one with life, finding purpose and seeing how your contribution affects the whole is easier.
The Benefits of Nature to Humans
Nature impacts human well-being in several positive ways. While it heals the physical self, its effects might be most profound on your psyche.
Step outside and enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors. Mother Nature never charges a copay, and the results could leave you feeling better and more at peace with yourself.
This is a collaborative post supporting our Peace In Peace Out initiative.