Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Photo above by @thehealthyfitfreak
All nature lovers intuitively know the peaceful calming effects of time spent in nature. But what does science have to say? Research in Europe has found that spending at least two hours a week in nature is not only beneficial for the mind and body, but also has necessary effects for our physical and cognitive health. People around the world have begun the practice of forest bathing, which simply is spending time in the forest to take in its positive effects. So what are these effects?
Photo above by @jessicairene26
The benefits of nature on the body are numerous. It's well known that the body uses sunlight to activate the production of Vitamin D in our fat cells, which is used for the immune system and bone health. Chemicals produced in trees called phytoncides are used by the tree to protect themselves from insects, fungi, and bacteria, but those same chemicals benefit our health as well. These properties include reduced inflammation, which improves cardiovascular health, and even the production of hunter killer cells, which attack cancer cells. We come in contact with these chemicals just by being near a tree.
Although stress is natural, chronic stress wears away at the body leaving us prone to weaken immune systems and chronic disease. Spending time in nature not only reduces our risk of chronic disease, but also improves the management of it. Many cases of chronic illness in the United States relate to elevated blood pressure and inflammation in our bodies. This has many causes but nature’s effect of lowering blood pressure helps to manage conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Even sunlight has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels in our blood, as well as reducing the risk of children developing type 1 diabetes later in life. This is because of the vitamin D that is produced when our skin comes into contact with sunlight.
Photo by @beaholmberg
Time spent with nature helps to calm our minds as well. People spending more time in nature report reduced anxiety and improved moods. Nature helps to lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone). In fact, you don’t even need to be fully submerged in nature, just a plant in a room can improve your stress and anxiety. Hospital patients who had a view of trees in recovery had a higher pain tolerance, fewer negative effects from procedures, and a faster recovery time. The idea is that people are so attracted to the view of nature that it distracts us from our pain.
Photo above by @dawnlimbertart
The best thing about all this is that we don’t need to be deep in the woods or high on a mountain to experience the beneficial effects of the environment. Even a plant in your room or a photo of a tree can help calm our bodies and improve our health. We were born of nature and we need it to survive as an individual and a species. So go out and smell the roses.
“The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams