If you’re looking for an easy way to improve both your mental and physical wellbeing quickly and at no cost, bundle up if necessary and head outside. Ecopsychology is the study of how and to what degree nature impacts psychological wellness. There’s something to be said for taking a step (or a couple thousand) away from your phone and computer to let your body and mind relax in nature. In fact, people who spend more time with nature report feeling more social and connected to others and experience greater resilience during difficult times. Compared to individuals who reside in rural areas, people who live in cities have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders. The fact that stress is detrimental to immunity is especially important now, and we know that nature is an effective stress reliever.
Your environment has a significant impact on how your nervous, respiratory, and endocrine systems function. Your surroundings affect your blood pressure, heart rate, and how much tension you are holding in your muscles. By decreasing stress hormones, exercising outside might benefit body weight more than can be explained by calculating the calories burnt by movement. Science shows that being in nature or even sitting near a houseplant, or water feature can reduce pain and discomfort. It’s smart to take a quick jaunt outside during the workday since doing so improves both attention and memory and boosts both our energy and focus.
It seems that how much time you spend outdoors matters. According to a study published in Nature, individuals had to spend at least 120 minutes per week in nature to report higher levels of both health and well-being. It did not matter how the 120 minutes was accrued, though, in several shorter or one or two longer bouts.
The news that nature is imperative to wellbeing is catching on, too, “Park deserts” are now discussed in public health initiatives, and cities are adding green spaces and blue spaces (aquatic environments) wherever possible. More employers are also seeking buildings with a view of nature or access to natural landscaping.
“Forest schools,” with roots reaching back to “friluftsliv,” which literally means “free air life” in Scandinavia, are growing in popularity in the U.S. and the U.K.
Japanese researchers have coined the phrase “forest bathing,” which is merely walking in the woods. They hypothesize that inhaling aerosols from the forest increases natural killer cells’ levels in the immune system, fighting cancer and infection.
Meanwhile, the Trust for Public Lands has completed a project to map all of the parks in the U.S. to identify those places without adequate access to parkland. They aim to improve those areas where people don’t live within a 10-minute walk to a park. It’s not just individuals that improve with exposure to nature. Entire societies benefit from reduced crime and aggression if the population has more access to nature.
So, if, like many of us, you feel unmotivated and a little restless these days – the answer to your problems might be just outside your door.