Lifting the human spirit is one of the most glorious gifts that nature has to offer mankind.
The renowned American naturalist and writer John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Now science is proving that what we have known intuitively for eons is true in the purest sense of the word. Imagine a readily available remedy with no known side effects that could improve your mental and physical health. Sound too good to be true?
Recent studies have found that nature has the power to enhance your mental health as well as your sense of well-being, at virtually no cost and without adverse side effects!
How does Mother Nature work her magic? Here are just a few of the findings that researchers have discovered.
Nature Provides a Restorative Environment
With no bells or whistles, beeps, or whirs to distract us, being surrounded by nature can help your mind shift into “neutral” gear, one that is more focused and attentive. Even having a view of nature from an office window was found to be associated with lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction. In fact, one study found that a person’s level of concentration increased after looking at photographs of nature.
Another study found that being in a natural environment, versus a busy or urban environment results in increased short term memory. For example, researchers found that walking in a garden setting boosted scores on memory tests by nearly 20% more than in individuals who walked down a city street.
On a related note, researchers found that college students who were asked to perform a memory task were more accurate after a walk in nature. These subjects were asked to repeat a sequence of numbers out loud, and those who did so after a walk in nature had greater accuracy than those who stayed indoors.
Echoing the findings of this study, researchers found that simply relaxing did not have the same kind of beneficial effect when concentrating that being in nature did. In their study, the researchers separated participants into three groups, with the goal of testing their ability to focus. One group was asked to relax, one group took a walk in nature and one group took a walk in a city. After the tasks were completed, the researchers tested each group on a concentration test and the nature group had the highest scores overall.
While as yet unproven, the attentional effect of nature is so powerful that some experts believe it may help decrease symptoms of ADHD. For example, one study found that children had better scores on concentration tasks after a 20-minute walk in a park.
Stress is an unfortunate part of our busy lives and oftentimes it’s easier to reach for a chemical or substance that we think will ease the pressure. That strategy usually only makes things worse!
Next Time You’re Stressed, Head Out to Nature
Numerous studies have found that cortisol levels actually drop after spending time in the natural environment. Cortisol is a hormone that shows elevated levels in the body when we’re under stress and strain, and one study found that after subjects spent two nights in the forest, cortisol levels dramatically decreased. A similar study revealed that both cortisol levels and heart rate were decreased in subjects after spending a period of time in the forest versus the city.
Does nature have the ability to enhance the immune system? Researchers are hard at work attempting to show a correlation between exposure to the natural environment and immune system health. So far the results appear promising. For example, a large study conducted in 2010 found that forest environments can confer beneficial effects on the human immune system function, although it was noted that more research is needed in order to replicate these findings.
The immune system is crucial in helping the body to fight infection, colds, the flu, etc. Finding a reliable method of boosting the immune system would be a boon for millions of Americans.
Mental Health Challenges Lessen After a Person’s Exposure to The Natural Environment
Experts have discovered that forest walks are especially linked to decreased levels of anxiety, while such walks may be a valuable tool for mediating depression in certain individuals.
What all of this data points to is that the natural environment has been shown to exert a powerful influence on our physical health and mental well-being.
One day in the future will doctors prescribe a dose of nature to fix what ails us? Maybe! So far nature has been shown to be an inexpensive, safe, and accessible remedy for boosting concentration levels and immune system function and lowering cortisol and heart rate levels. All of this data points to the powerful role that nature has to play in our quest for healing and wholeness.
While the health effects of nature are both promising and wide-ranging, it’s important to note that science has not revealed a cause-and-effect connection between the natural environment and health. However, what researchers are able to show, are strong correlations between exposure to nature and improved mental and physical health outcomes.
Many studies suggest that simply being surrounded by nature can improve our outlook and mood, and maybe even prolong our lives. And just think, all these benefits come without needing a doctor’s appointment nor a prescription!
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