Spending time in nature has a profound effect on your health in a positive way, and if you are like most people, then you are probably spending a large part of your life on the computer, watching TV, skimming your phone and your time spent outdoors is minimal. This dependence on electronic media and not spending quality time outdoors in nature is creating harmful consequences for our mental, emotional and physical health.
There is actually a term developed by child advocacy expert Richard Louv called Nature Deficit Disorder in his book Last Child in the Woods. Louv spent 10 years traveling the United States, visiting with parents and children in both rural and urban areas, and discussed with them their experiences in nature. He concluded that the sensationalized media coverage and over protective parents have “scared children straight out of the woods and fields.” This disconnect can create in children a limited respect for their natural surroundings leading to attention disorders and depression.
Humans crave a connection with nature and research is confirming that this connection increases mental health and spiritual and psychological development as well as reduces stress, creates a sense of belonging and an improved self-confidence and self-discipline. Being outdoors also provides the benefits of natural sunlight, which provides your body with much needed vitamin D and natural stabilization of melatonin levels.
Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing” is a Japanese practice that celebrates the health-improving qualities of the forest and has become a cornerstone for healing and preventive health care in the Japanese culture since the 1980s. The practice of forest bathing is simple: take a relaxing walk in a wild or natural area and you will achieve calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to your health. A few other scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Improves mood
- Reduces stress
- Increases ability to focus
- Improves sleep
- Boosts immune system
- Increases energy levels
Studies have found that there are invisible chemicals in forests called phytoncides, which are wood essential oils. These oils are released by trees and are known to reduce stress hormones, lower anxiety and improve immunity just by breathing in the fresh forest air. Taking a leisurely visit to a forest is similar to natural aromatherapy and this forest therapy is a good example of how our health is dependent on the health of our natural environment.
It is important to spend time outdoors in a natural setting, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the natural sounds and smells from the plants, flowers and animals. Now that the weather has changed into warmer and longer days, it will be easier to get outside to enjoy nature and reap the health benefits. Even if the nearest forest might be miles away from where you work or live, finding a few minutes throughout the day to be outside in the sunshine and fresh air will provide your body with numerous health benefits, emotionally and physically.
Here are a few ideas to help you get motivated to enjoy the outdoors:
- Picnicking: Enjoying a meal outdoors with friends and family allows time to breathe fresh air, enables bonding and communication and fosters healthy eating habits because meals can be prepared at home in advance.
- Team sports: Joining a club in your community where you can participate in team sports is a great way to be outside and benefit your overall health. Team sports are a great way to connect with people from different backgrounds and encourage individuals to think with a team perspective and allow for socialization, cooperation and leadership.
- Water exercises: A great way to get outside in these warmer summer months and exercise is to visit a local outdoor pool, lake or beach and try working out in the water. Exercising in water builds cardiovascular stamina, strength and flexibility and helps rehabilitate healing muscles and joints.
- Camping: An overnight trip to the campgrounds or an entire week camping with your family can provide health benefits. Camping allows us to break away from the chaos of life and enjoy things in a simpler way. You will benefit from the fresh air, socialization, exercise, sunshine, and less stress. Use this link to locate a camping site near you: https://koa.com/.
- Nature Trails: Taking walks on nature trails and paths is a great way to be outside and exercise. Navigating uneven ground uses different muscles than you would use on flat, man-made surfaces, increasing your heart and metabolic rate, which burns more calories. For a list of hiking and nature trails in your area, visit: https://www.alltrails.com/.
Increasing your exposure to nature in any form, even by planting a garden or a walk in the local park, will provide numerous health benefits and will also engage your senses, allowing you to observe your surroundings without judgement, bringing a sense of calm and appreciation to your body and mind.
Article By Andrea Nison