Chances are, we are all familiar with the ‘feel-good vibes’ that we experience after time spent in nature. Whether that means a walk in the forest with your dog, a dip in the ocean, a hike through snowy mountains or time in your garden- these moments have a magical power to them. As late back as the early 1800s, philosophers were aware of the effect of nature on humankind. More than a century and a half later, there is now plenty of science on the healing power of nature to back this up.
Despite our own understanding of how good nature makes us feel, many of us living in the modern world are unaware of just how nature-deprived we really are. The average American uses a screen in one shape or form for at least 10 hours a day. Studies have shown that screen time is associated with increased fatigue, depression, anxiety, ADHD and poor concentration.
Research from all over the world is showing that people who live closer to nature have fewer health complaints and live longer. With nature literally on our doorstep, it seems like an easy, accessible and enjoyable way for us to immediately improve our wellbeing.
Here are the top ways that nature can improve our health and wellbeing:
LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure affects 1 in 3 Americans, yet time in nature appears to be an easy and affordable way to improve heart health. A study found that adults with high blood pressure could reduce their blood pressure just by spending 30 minutes or more in a park each week.
Japan has been leading the way in many of the scientific studies on nature and wellbeing. The Japanese term ‘forest bathing’ refers specifically to the benefits of spending time outdoors, particularly in green spaces. One Japanese study found that people who spent 40 minutes walking in a forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is involved in blood pressure and immune system function. Further studies have found that even 20 minutes in nature can reduce cortisol by nearly two times more than people who spend no time outdoors.
Another Japanese study showed women who spent six hours in the woods over a two-day period increased their white blood cells, which are the cells required by the body to fight illness and disease. Furthermore, the boost lasted about a week after the experiment. Trees and plants have also been shown to emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides. When inhaled, these aromas can spur healthy biological changes in a manner similar to aromatherapy. Time in nature promotes changes in the blood that are associated with protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure.
THE POWER OF AWE
Looking at a stunning waterfall, undulating countryside, an unfettered ocean horizon, a lush rainforest- these views and experiences elicit feelings of awe in humans that bring about a number of health benefits. Studies show that experiences of awe attune us to things larger than ourselves- they inspire us to feel less entitled, less selfish, and to behave in more generous and compassionate ways. The benefits of awe are physical too: regularly experiencing moments of awe has been shown to lower levels of inflammation in the body.
LOWERS DEPRESSION & ANXIETY
Urban dwellers are far more likely to have anxiety and mood disorders than people who live in rural areas. While most of the world do live in city environments, studies have also found that people who walk for 90 minutes in a natural setting each week, such as a forest or a park, have lower activity in an area of the brain linked to depression. Furthermore, the air that surrounds moving water, forests and mountains contains high levels of negative ions, which have been shown to reduce depression symptoms. Studies have also found that nature can help treat people with symptoms of posttraumatic stress injury.
Being outdoors is an easy way to bring a smile to your face. Sunlight alone provides you vitamin D, which has been shown to boost mood, calm the nervous system and improve issues such as seasonal affective disorder. According to one Finnish study, spending just 15 minutes sitting in nature helped people feel psychologically restored. Those results were even faster when they spent that time walking.
Being in nature has the ability to keep you connected to the present moment. Unplugging from daily life and getting outdoors allows you to focus on the now. At its essence, connecting with nature encourages you to be in the present moment, to quiet your mind and take in the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. In this way, nature acts as a form of meditation- allowing us to be aware of and connected to the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness and presence have been shown to minimise stress and anxiety.
INCREASES ENERGY LEVELS
When you’re feeling a little low in energy, try switching your coffee for some time outdoors.
A series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that people who were exposed to nature for as little as 20 minutes a day experienced elevated energy levels and better overall mood than those who were not.
CONNECTS YOU TO SPIRIT
On a spiritual level, connecting with nature can help provide us with a stronger sense of self. Time in nature reminds us that we are part of an interconnected world. Being in a forest or by the ocean helps us to feel grounded and ‘at home’ in ways that being in urban places does not allow. Being barefoot in nature, also now known as ‘grounding’ can help us to feel connected and immediately usher in a sense of peace and wellbeing.
IMPROVES COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING
Time in nature has also been proven to boost brain health and functioning. Studies show that participants who took a memory test and then walked in nature did 20% better than those who took the test and then took a walk around the city. Taking a break in nature can also improve your concentration by giving your brain a well-needed break. People who spend time in nature throughout their working days have shown an increase in working memory performance, decreased anxiety, and a more positive approach to work tasks.
REDUCED PAIN & HEALING
Nature can literally heal us in rather miraculous ways. One study shows that people exposed to more natural light healed faster from spinal surgery and reportedly had less pain than those who did not have the exposure from nature. It seems nature can also serve as a natural drug for pain. Studies have shown that even just viewing natural surroundings helps diminish levels of perceived pain and discomfort. Researchers continue to see the results of this theory by using plants and nature scenes in hospital rooms.
Fake it ‘Til You Make It!
For those of you who may be worried about your current exposure to nature and ability to access natural surroundings, there is more good news for you. There is plenty of evidence that suggests you will still benefit from putting a plant in your room or looking at trees through your window at home. Research shows that even if they’re artificial, the images, sounds and smells of nature can have positive health effects. Listening to nature sounds over headphones, for instance, has been shown to help people recover faster from stress. Several studies have also shown that having a window view can improve attention, increase energy and reduce stress. Try and work by windows or if that isn’t possible, hang photos of nature and add a photo of nature that you love as a screensaver on your computer or smartphone. Every little bit helps.
Get Back to Nature
Findings on the health benefits of nature have become so convincing that mainstream health providers and organizations have begun to promote nature therapy for an array of illnesses and for disease prevention. If you are in need of a nature-boost, join us for an Escape Haven Voyage- a luxury adventure and wellness retreat around the stunning Komodo islands in Indonesia. There is nothing quite like spending your days at sea, inhaling the salty air, feeling the fresh breeze on your skin, and taking in spectacular new sights. This special boat retreat offers you a myriad of ways to connect with nature, from diving, snorkelling and swimming, to hiking, exploring and practicing yoga on deserted beaches. 5 days at sea has the health benefits of a month-long retreat! These positive effects can be felt immediately, and last long after the voyage is finished.
Discover more about Escape Haven Voyages here and get back to nature with us in 2020.
Your Escape Haven Bali Retreat offers a luxury wellness experience for body, mind and soul
We invite you to experience our award-winning Bali retreat. If it’s time to fill up your cup and reconnect with yourself on a deeper level, we’d love to help you rejuvenate, unwind, reawaken and experience the very best of Bali. Dive into transformational yoga and meditation classes, exhilarating surf lessons in the warm waters of Bali, fun fitness classes and restorative healing sessions. How much or little you do is all up to you.