Get Out: The Benefits of Being in Nature

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By Jessica Hamlin

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

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Reduced ADHD Symptoms

Kids that got more “green time”—time in nature—had milder ADHD symptoms, a University of Illinois study found.

Per National Geographic’s article "This is Your Brain on Nature":

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.”

Feeling happier

“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

  • Stress relief

  • Reduced inflammation (high inflammation can lead to autoimmune disorders, depression and cancer, to name a few)

  • Better vision

  • Sharper thinking and creativity

  • Boosted immune system

  • Improved mental health

  • Reduced risk of early death

Huffington Post shares research about how the outdoors makes you healthier:

  • Makes exercise easier

  • Spurs weight loss

  • Increases Vitamin D intake

Ways to get more nature

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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.

Go camping

You can do this literally in your backyard or at a national park or campground.

Garden

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.

 

(Thumbnail Photo: Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash)


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.   

 

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