The Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
SEE HOW SELF-CARE AND FRESH AIR GO HAND-IN-HAND!
By Mia Bencivenga
February 24, 2021
Like many people going through the COVID-19 crisis, being inside is making me feel, well, a little loopy. After all, there’s only so much reading, binge-watching and household chores a girl can do before she starts climbing up the walls.
It got me wondering if there was something — anything — I could do to alleviate the kind of antsy anxiousness I’ve been feeling for many months now.
The answer is that I should, quite literally, take a hike.
Why? Well, apparently there are many mental, physical, and even societal health benefits you can get just by heading to the local park.
The Physical Benefits of Being in Nature
Based on a study at Yale University, when people spend time in nature (safely, of course!) their blood pressure and stress hormone levels lower, their nervous system is less aroused, and their immune system function gets better.
Plus, a similar study at Harvard showed that being outside increases your vitamin D levels. This is because sunlight hitting the skin creates a biologically active form of vitamin D. I know a lot of people are skeptical about vitamins and their efficacy, but vitamin D has some of the strongest evidence of any vitamin in terms of fighting disease in the body. It may be able to combat everything from osteoporosis to cancer to depression — and most of us do not get our recommended daily dose.
If you do plan on getting more sun for your health, just be careful you don’t overdo it. After you’ve got enough sun-to-skin time (about 10-30 minutes depending on your skin tone — talk to your dermatologist to get a better idea of how much sun exposure you should get) make sure to lotion up with sunscreen.
The Mental Health Benefits of Going Outside
Want a simple way to increase your self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve your mood?
Yep, you guessed it — go outside!
Sunlight alone can help elevate your mood — something people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) can certainly attest to.
But the effects may go beyond just making you feel happier. In a recent study involving psychiatric patients, researchers found that when patients went into nature, they experienced reduced feelings of isolation, a sense of calm and an elevated mood.
Aside from making you feel better, there is some evidence that going outside can be good for your concentration as well.
A study published in 2008 found that children with ADHD scored higher on a test of concentration after a walk through a park than after a walk through a residential neighborhood or downtown area. More research needs to be done on adults with attention-deficit disorders, but the research is promising!
The Positive Effect Nature Has on a Community
So far it looks like nature has a positive influence on individuals — but what about its effects on a large group of people?
It turns out that access to nature could be just as important for a community’s well-being as access to grocery stores and public transportation.
A 2015 study of 2,000 people in the United Kingdom found that the more exposure a community had to nature, the more they experienced community cohesion, in addition to substantially lower crime rates.
Whether or not the connection between crime rates and access to nature is simply correlational may take more studies to sort out. However, it does appear that having parks and trails nearby is good for the mental and physical wellbeing of a community’s citizens. That means we should all do our part to advocate and lobby for more green spaces in our towns and cities.
If you are lucky and do have easy access to nature right now, and it’s safe to venture outside, see if it helps you shake off a little of the COVID-19 induced cabin fever.
It may not be the cure-all we all so desperately want right now, but if it helps you get through the day a little healthier and happier, it’s certainly worth a walk in the woods.