Get Out: The Benefits of Being in Nature
The desk and cubicle work world and the era of video games, Smartphones and other devices has made it more common for people to be sedentary (more on that here). It’s also made it more common for us to be indoors.
From the late 1980s to 2008, the percentage of Americans doing nature-based activities like fishing, camping and visiting national parks decreased 18 percent, one percent per year.
And according to research by the Harvard School of Public Health, American adults spend less time outdoors than they do inside vehicles—less than 5 percent of their day.
Children today also play outside less than half the amount their parents did as children.
In 2016, National Geographic referenced a recent study in which 70 percent of U.S. mothers reported that they played outside every day as children, while only 31 percent of their children do.
The book Vitamin N even tackles the phenomenon of “nature-deficit disorder” on kids and families. But whether you’re single, married, with or without kids, time in nature is vital.
So why does this matter? Despite our modern lifestyles, being outdoors—around nature, specifically—is the most natural state for humans. And, what do you know, our brains, mood and more function better when we’re around greenery, wilderness and fresh air instead of bustling city streets or inside staring at a screen or whatever else we’re doing for hours. Just check out this in-depth National Geographic article “This is Your Brain on Nature.”
For a funny take on time in nature, this Nature Rx video parodies prescription drug ads while talking about the advantages of something that doesn’t require a prescription or pills: nature.
How to Define Nature
For the purposes of research studies that focus on human behavior, health and the parts of the brain that respond to nature, nature is categorized as a range of things. National Geographic mentions studies that mark the effects on people who have nature views outside their window versus those with a bad view, as well as the effect on a group of backpackers after three days of wilderness backpacking away from home and sans devices.
Benefits of Nature
Reduced ADHD Symptoms
Kids that got more “green time”—time in nature—had milder ADHD symptoms, a University of Illinois study found.
Lower mortality and fewer stress hormones
These have been connected to living close to green space.
Better recovery + performance, less violence
“Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common.”
“People underestimate the happiness effect” of being outdoors, Lisa Nisbet, a psychology professor at Canada’s Trent University, tells National Geographic. “We don’t think of it as a way to increase happiness. We think other things will, like shopping or TV. We evolved in nature. It’s strange we’d be so disconnected.”
11 Reasons You Should Go Outside, Business Insider reports, include:
Improved short-term memory
Restored mental energy
Reduced inflammation (high inflammation can lead to autoimmune disorders, depression and cancer, to name a few)
Sharper thinking and creativity
Boosted immune system
Improved mental health
Reduced risk of early death
Makes exercise easier
Spurs weight loss
Increases Vitamin D intake
Ways to get more nature
You needn't be “outdoorsy” or Cheryl Strayed of Wild book and film fame to experience the great outdoors. Every little bit of nature helps, but truly getting away to a local hiking spot or nature area (and disconnecting from devices when you can) makes the biggest impact.
If you’re spending ample time outdoors don't forget to drink enough water and choose a good sunscreen with effective ingredients that won’t harm you.
Go for a walk in your neighborhood
See what nature you can find and take in the sight, smell and feel of trees, leaves, bark, plants and flowers.
Go to a park
This can be a small urban park or, for more Vitamin N, a large garden or larger wilderness area like a national park. Walk, play Frisbee, have a picnic, and try our playground workout if you feel like it.
You can do this literally in your backyard or at a national park or campground.
If you want to interact even more with nature, get some soil and plants in your hands. Short on space? Here are 40 ways to maximize a small garden from Good Housekeeping.
Go for a hike
Chances are, there’s a trail somewhere fairly near you where you can chill with the trees. Just make sure to research the trail’s location and difficulty level, bring water and snacks, and take a buddy or tell someone where you’re going.
Hit the beach or a body of water
Sit, walk, hang out with friends, go for a swim, fish, or kayak in a clean ocean, lake or river near you.
Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.