The natural world encompasses a vast range of healing potential, from providing nutritious plant-based foods and botanical medicines, to exerting a positive effect on human physiology. Many people experience a favorable shift in their physical and mental states while spending time in nature. However, as urban cities expand across the globe, the natural habitat that humans evolved to live in is changing. Large cities provide a completely different atmosphere than the traditional forest surroundings. This change in setting has major impacts on our mental and physical health. Fortunately, city dwellers can still acquire the amazing health benefits of nature. Listed below are 5 specific ways that spending time in nature improves our health.
Simply spending time in the forest and taking in its atmosphere has been shown to decrease physiological markers of stress, such as heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol secretion, and overall sympathetic nerve activity (ie. the “fight or flight” state). Forest-time has also been associated with an increase in parasympathetic nerve activity, which is more commonly known as our relaxed “rest and digest” state that promotes healing and recovery. Chronic stress is becoming increasingly common in today’s fast-paced lifestyle, and has been linked to various health impairments including high blood pressure, anxiety, heart disease, fatigue, insomnia, and decreased immunity. Therefore, stress reduction is an important part of optimizing health, and “forest-bathing” is one avenue that can offer balance in this area.
Spending time in the forest has been shown to lower depression scores, especially in those with higher baseline stress. Negative thinking patterns, such as brooding and rumination have been shown to decrease in a park setting, compared to a city environment. In addition to these subjective improvements, brain activity in areas associated with negative thinking was also decreased in a park, compared to a city.
Immune System Activation
Spending time in nature has been shown to increase the activity of certain types of white blood cells that help fight off infection and prevent tumour growth. Immune system activation seems to be partially linked to phytoncide, an essential oil released from trees.
Improvements in memory and attention have been demonstrated in natural environments compared to urban settings. This effect also persisted with simply viewing photographs of nature versus photographs of cities.
Walking in the forest has been shown to improve sleep, specifically by increasing total sleep time, immobile minutes, self-rated depth of sleep, and sleep quality.
While modern living is pulling us further from nature, there are ways to make it more prevalent in our lives. Here are some ideas to bring more nature into your life:
- Go for regular walks in the forest
- Sit by the ocean or a river
- Fill your home and workplace with plants and pictures of nature
- Spend your lunch break at a park instead of the staff room
- Exercise outside instead of going to the gym
- Start a garden
Happy forest bathing!
Disclaimer: this information is meant to be general and for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a licensed healthcare practitioner for personal medical care and prior to starting new treatment.