A few days ago my friend sent me a link to this article which talks about the scientifically proven benefits of spending time in nature for physical and emotional health and wellbeing, as well as spiritual wellness.
“Sara L. Warber, MD, professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan and an honorary associate professor at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter in the U.K., has been studying the benefits of spending time in nature for years.
Physical benefits. “People tend to be more active when in nature. Also, people enjoy being physically active in nature more than indoors,” she says. Because of this, people are more likely to repeat the activity, which evidence has shown leads to lowered blood pressure, improved immune system function, and better endocrine system balance.
Mental benefits. “People who participate in group walks in nature havegreater mental well-being, less depression, less stress,” says Warber. “There is also a large body of literature that shows better cognitive performance following a nature experience, and quicker recovery from stressful exposures.”
Emotional benefits. “Youth in camp settings, people in parks and people on group walks in nature experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions,” says Warber.
Spiritual benefits. Both youth and adults experience more transcendence, serenity, and tranquility when they spend time in nature”.
After being asked what could be a mechanism behind such wonderful results, Sara L. Warber said that when we spend time in nature the Relaxation Response seems to kick in – which is the opposite to the “Fight or Flight” Response. This response also seems to be activated in meditation, mindfulness, and other stress-reduction techniques. Sara thinks that when we are spending time in nature, our sympathetic nervous and endocrine systems might be affected, leading to a reduction in stress levels.
In fact, Michael, the author of the article, made en experiment on himself – while living in a busy city – London – he decided he would spend an hour every day Monday to Friday in a park. Here are some of the benefits he reported:
- improved mood (an accumulative effect)
- levels of stress dropped (which was quiet and immediate effect)
- improved creativity (after 3 weeks practice)
- improved memory
Interestingly, even after the end of the experiment Michael did not stop his 1h-a-day walks in a park!
Warber believes that it is about being regular rather than spending lots of time in nature: “People can benefit even from very short experiences in nature, such as 10 to 15 minutes per day. In fact, some research suggests that it is repeated short experiences that are most helpful”. “Walks in tree-lined neighborhoods can increase longevity; walks in city parks can shift mental attitudes very quickly.”
“And while city dwellers are an obvious at-risk group, Warber says the most concern at present is for the young, who can be immersed in the screen-based culture and the demands of schooling or other organized activities. “They also don’t know what they might be missing in nature,” she says.
That’s why it’s up to researchers like Warber to prove the benefits, and you reading this, like my mom did for me when I was growing up, to tell the young to get outside and explore. Tell them to get their hands dirty—interact with the natural world around them.”
Read more here.
If so, how long are your walks, and how regularly do you do it? Have you noticed any health/wellbeing/spiritual benefits? We would love to hear from you!