It’s summer here in SC…a great time to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature. With all of the national and state parks as well as beaches, lakes and other natural spaces, there is always some way to get outside, even if it’s in your own backyard.
Being outdoors can be a magical experience. Surrounding yourself in the beauty of nature in all it’s forms is amazing. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life is soothing. And taking a break from all of the technology is necessary for maintaining health!
Unfortunately, most people spend little to no time outside. In fact, most people suffer from “vitamin N” deficiency. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv writes about the rapidly growing amount of research that shows how vital it is for children to be exposed to nature. He introduced the term “nature deficit disorder”. And he makes the connection between the need for time in nature and the emotional and physical health of both children and adults.
Our ancestors spent much of their time outdoors working. But we live in a time when we have never been so disconnected from nature. And nature deficit disorder may be impacting your health considerably!
How does spending time in nature benefit your health?
Boosts immune system
Many people spend most of their time indoors, being sedentary. But staying indoors is detrimental to health. Indoor environments have been shown to be far more toxic than outdoors. Over the past few decades, various studies done in Japan that have shown the link between forest bathing and improved immune system function. In fact, forest therapy is regularly recommended in Japan to boost health. Studies have shown that participants who regularly spend time in nature have an increase in white cells, as well as the “killer” cells that help to keep cancer at bay.
Studies now show that spending as little as 20 minutes a day out in nature can increase your overall energy levels. So if you struggle with fatigue, don’t reach for that cup of coffee, or sugary snack. Get outdoors and soak in some vitamin N! I can tell you from my own personal experience that this is indeed true. Not only can you feel more energized in such a short period. You can also feel better in general!
More people are suffering the ravages of chronic stress now more than ever before. The basic for as much as 90% of all chronic illness is chronic stress. We have more modern conveniences than ever, but experience far more stress as the result. And while stress management should be a priority, many do nothing to reduce stress levels regularly. When you face daily stress, the body releases the hormone Cortisol. Raised levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the body after time. But spending time in nature reduces cortisol levels and overall stress levels. And these levels can remain lower for several days after spending time outside.
Lowers blood pressure
When stress and cortisol levels are lower, then blood pressure comes down. Elevated cortisol levels raise blood pressure to help prepare the body to either fight or run. Spending time outside can reduce high blood pressure. As a result risk for heart attacks and stroke also goes down.
Improves focus and attention
When you spend time out in nature, it can actually improve how well you focus and concentrate. A 2009 study of children found that children with attention deficit issues showed improvement in their ability to concentrate after a 20 minute walk in a park. Even the focus of adults can improve when spending time in nature.
Want to boost your mood? A study by the Journal of Positive Psychology shows that as little as 5 minutes in nature can do just that! The study showed that spending time in nature, without technology, helped participants reduce their levels of negative emotions.
Helps improve short-term memory
Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study about the connection between walking outdoors and short term memory improvement. The study concluded that those participants who walked in gardens or green areas experienced as much as a 20% improvement in their short term memory. This was compare to participants who were instructed to walk in urban areas with no green space.
Being subjected to the regular light and darkness patterns of the earth can help to balance and restore the circadian rhythm so that a healthy sleep pattern is restored. Also, being in nature reduces stress and cortisol levels. Therefore, many find it much easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Chronic stress and high cortisol levels are often linked to insomnia and other sleep issues.
Helps seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is caused by a significant decrease of sunlight exposure during the late fall and winter months when it gets dark earlier. But going out into the sunlight in nature during daytime for 20-30 minutes can help you get enough light to help reduce the symptoms that accompany SAD.
Increases vitamin D levels
Most people know that they can increase vitamin D levels by spending time in the sun. In fact, the sun is the best source of this vital nutrient. To increase levels, allow yourself to get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight on a large amount of your skin. The best time of day to do this is midday. And summer sunshine is more beneficial than winter sun. Also, you cannot get vitamin d through sun shining through a window.
15 minutes of sunshine during the summer months can give you as much as 10,000-20,000 I.U.s of vitamin d. Currently the recommended daily dose is 600 I.U.
If you haven’t been spending much time outdoors, perhaps this is a great time to take a look at ways that you can incorporate time with nature into your day. The good news is that you don’t have to travel to the nearest forest to benefit. A local green park or other green space can be just as effective!