I’ve always been the kind of person who feels like nature speaks to me. For me, being outdoors helps me forget about the negative parts of life while I get lost in the grandeur of everything that’s around me. However, that doesn’t mean I wish I were outside all the time—far from it, actually—it’s just that being outside makes me feel more alive and carefree than when I’m cooped up at a desk or in front of the TV all day.
Research shows that I’m not the only one who feels this way either. There are several positive effects to spending time in the great outdoors. As we seek to both care for ourselves better and connect with the world outside our small little bubbles, knowing the ways nature can help will enable us to more proactively use this great resource for our mental, spiritual, and physical gain.
Nature Gives You Energy & Resilience
A psychology study published back in 2009 found that going outside is a pretty great alternative to reaching for a cup of coffee when you’re feeling tired. As many as 90% of research participants (an absolutely huge number in this kind of research, if I do say so myself) felt a greater sense of energy when involved in outdoor activities. One of the study’s authors, a professor of psychology, is even quoted saying, “Nature is fuel for the soul.”
Additionally, and this may be one of the more interesting findings, people who spend time outside also seem to be more resilient to physical ailments. This increase in overall vitality was seen after spending just 20 minutes in the outdoors, too, so you don’t need to go hiking every weekend to get the energy-boosting benefits of nature.
Nature Raises Your Spirit, Decreases Stress
Talk about play has been on the tips of our tongues for a few years now, and the reason is because kids (well all of us really) do get significant benefits from being outside. This post on the National Wildlife Foundation’s website calls out multiple studies that speak to the physical, mental, and spiritual effects being outdoors can have, specifically on kids.
One study they mention shows how nature can have a massive stress-reducing effect. While a more city-style life (lots of concrete and cars) can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression, a life lived with a focus on nature can actually have the opposite outcome. Nature can also help with symptoms of ADHD and make us all-around nicer people.
One possible explanation of the multitude of positive effects found in nature is actually in its scents. Pine, for instance, has been found to lower depression and anxiety, while the smell of some flowers can decrease stress while increasing relaxation. If you are like many Americans and spend every day in a bigger city with little green space, investing in scents for your home or work and even essential oils can be a great step toward taking advantage of some of what nature has to offer.
Nature Can Make You Healthier
Beautiful sights and smells are only two parts of what nature offers us. There’s a lot of really great actual “stuff” in nature that has true health benefits. According to an article on the Huffington Post, vitamin D—a product of the sun—is notoriously difficult for humans to supplement. Of course, vitamin D has a host of positive benefits, including impacting bone growth, cell growth, inflammation reduction and neuromuscular and immune function.
But, that’s not all. The article also throws light on additional research that shows how being out in nature regularly can help us age more gracefully and healthfully.
Nature Helps Your Brain
So, while a lot of research can help us see the benefits of being outdoors, there isn’t a lot (yet) that tell us why. One study, focused on by the New York Times, shows that there is a very real impact on our brains. More specifically, the study’s authors looked at the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain—an area of primary focus for those going through treatment for depression. They found that people who were exposed to elements of nature experienced less brain activity in this specific area, which the authors argue leads to a greater overall mood as a result.
Being in Nature Often Means Being with Others
Studies like these often use experiments that require participants to experience nature alone. The reason they do this is to ensure than any effects of nature are actually due to nature itself, not the company you’re with or the other fun you may be having while outside. Of course, being outside often leads to being with others, like close friends and family. If nature alone is a positive influence on our mind, body, and spirit, how much more can being outdoors help us care for ourselves if we bring others we love with us?
With that, there are a lot of reasons to get outdoors. Of course, the outdoors isn’t necessarily for everyone or accessible to everyone, and that’s why products like essential oils, houseplants, and soothing sounds could all be a great investment for folks who might find themselves less happy than they wish they could be.