Four Ways Nature Makes Us Better, Backed by Science
“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves... All is a miracle.”
- Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
As people continue moving toward dense, urban cities and spend time increasingly focused on screens, the words of the 16th century Swiss physician Paracelsus ring loud: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.”
Here are four ways spending time with nature can support our physical and emotional well-being, and the science that backs it up.
1. Lower cortisol levels
Spending even as little as two hours per week exposed to nature boosts mental and physical health, as the body reacts to its environs, and we experience the secondary effects of disconnecting from everyday stressors. According to research from both Dutch and Japanese studies, after just half an hour outdoors, people exhibited lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol. And, after spending time in forest areas, pulse rates went down and heart rates calmed, while mood improved—all from being close to trees!
2. Naturally increase happiness and decrease anxiety
If you’re struggling to devote time to get back to Mother Nature, small acts can make a big difference. Gardening, planting flowers for bees, or feeding birds may seem insignificant, but they create a connection to nature and this slight change in our contact with the outside world has great impact. Dr. Miles Richardson, Head of Psychology at the University of Derby in the UK notes, “feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety.”
3. Increase serotonin, the 'happy chemical'
A dose of fresh air improves blood pressure, while oxygen levels in your brain are linked to levels of serotonin, which we know as the happy chemical that contributes to wellbeing. The age old adage of “get your vitamin D” has merit: healthy sun exposure can reap numerous rewards, from promoting bone and dental health to elevating mood and reducing the risk of diseases, such as cancer, according to Harvard Medical School.
4. Get Moving to Clear Your Mind
Wandering into the wild also forces you to unplug from electronic devices and daily responsibilities like work emails or school projects, and instead get your muscles moving. This gives your brain some much needed downtime, so that you can rest your mind and unwind. And physical activity, even if minimal, gets endorphins going and can automatically trigger a wave of good vibes to wash over you.
Now that we’re all high on the thought of ‘forest bathing,’ or shinrin-yoku as the Japanese call it, we can’t forget that the relationship humans have with nature is reciprocal. It is our duty to respect and conserve our natural environment; it’s fundamental to our own health and quality of life, in addition to that of generations to come.
And yes, the irony of reading this on a screen shouldn’t be overlooked. We live in an age that allows us to connect and create on new levels, but we must pay attention to our natural intuition and the body’s need for fresh air and connection with Mother Nature. So challenge yourself to find a daily dose of the natural outdoors sooner, rather than later, ideally for a few minutes each day.
Written by Courtney Moore. Courtney is a baker, designer, jeweler, translator, and teacher, writer, and passionate supporter of Baloo and our mission. Based in Barcelona, she finds the Spanish way of life, slowing down and taking time to enjoy the little things like sunshine on a balcony or chatting with a friend on the street, parallels Baloo's beliefs that natural practices encourage a healthy mind and body, and the idea that wellbeing starts from within.
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