Have you ever noticed how wonderful you feel after a long walk, hike or even just after sitting outside watching the clouds for a while? You may find that after a period of time outside, you feel more vibrant, more optimistic and more relaxed. There may be more of a bounce in your step and your mind may feel more focused.
These effects are not all in your head. Science has found time spent in nature to be correlated with a large number of positive health effects. According to David Strayer of the University of Utah, one of the researchers involved in such studies:
“People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several hundred years — from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers. Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”
One highly noteworthy benefit of nature is its potential to, believe it or not, make us kinder and more compassionate to others.
Nature can bring out compassion
For a 2014 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley studied the relationship between time spent in nature and traits of human kindness. The researchers performed a series of experiments on this relationship. One involved showing participants nature scenes described as beautiful and then asking them to play economic games, called the “Dictator Game” and the “Trust Game.”
Researchers found that participants who were shown nature scenes before the games played in a more generous manner. This was in comparison to those participants who did not see the nature scenes.
In another experiment, UC Berkeley researchers found participants more willing to make paper cranes if they were seated at a table with plants. On the results of their experiments, the researchers wrote:
“Across studies, we provide evidence that positive emotions and tendencies to perceive natural beauty mediate and moderate the association between beauty and prosociality.”
Time in nature can make you happier
For a 2015 study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, Stanford University researchers had 60 participants take a walk either through a woodland or along a four-lane road in the city. Researchers gave participants assessments to measure their cognition, emotions and their short-term memories. On their results, the study authors wrote:
“Compared to the urban walk, the nature walk resulted in effective benefits (decreased anxiety, rumination and negative affect, and preservation of positive affect) as well as cognitive benefits (increased working memory performance).”
Time in nature can make you feel more relaxed and creative
For a 2014 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers discovered that participants who walked for at least 20 minutes through a woodland reported higher levels of stress relief than participants who walked through a city center. The researchers said, “The findings suggest that even short-term visits to nature areas have positive effects on perceived stress relief compared to built-up environment.”
Nature also has the potential to spark your creativity. The University of Utah’s David Strayer explains:
“If you’ve been using your brain to multitask — as most of us do most of the day — and then you set that aside and go on a walk, without all of the gadgets, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover. And that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving and feelings of well-being.”
Other benefits of communing with nature
There are many other health benefits to getting outside as much as possible! Just a couple include improving sleep and lowering inflammation throughout the body. Taking a walk, hike or trip to the beach is also a great way to connect with family and friends. There is no age group that can’t find something fun to do outside!
If the weather permits it, there is no reason not to get outside. Spend some time with the trees! On colder days, take a trip to an outdoor ice skating rink. Even some fun in the backyard sledding and building snowmen can boost everyone’s mood.
Oh, one more thing. Whenever it is warm enough, try kicking off your shoes. Head barefoot onto the grass or sand. The effects of grounding, having direct contact with the earth below, may do wonders for the body, mind and spirit.
How long have you spent outside today? If you’ve been staying indoors, it’s time to get out there!
– Tanya Mead