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Have you ever been asked where your dream home is? What is your answer? It is likely not at the top of a high-rise building in the middle of a city. Most say it is near the sea, the countryside, or a cabin in the woods. There is a reason for this.
We feel most at peace when we are in nature. We instinctively know that spending time in nature is good for the mind, body, and soul. And now, science is backing us up (1).
Nature can help improve focus and concentration, reduce stress and anxiety, restore cognitive function and mental well-being, boost creativity and problem-solving, and protect your physical health and fitness.
Spending time in nature is so beneficial for health and development that it should be considered a “prescription” for us all!
Why is Nature So Good For Us?
Inflammation in the body is triggered by the damage that free radicals cause (2). Without going deep into a chemistry lesson, a simplified explanation is that free radicals have unpaired, or free, electrons.
This makes them highly chemically reactive, which is how they cause so much damage to our cells.
One benefit of being in nature is the abundance of negative ions that can neutralize unpaired electrons in those free radicals (3) and the positive ions given off by electrical devices, screens, fluorescent lighting, carpets, and pollution, especially in cities (4).
The best places to get more soothing negative ions are waterfalls, the seashore, rivers, and streams.
Dense forests are another great place to immerse yourself in negative ions, hence the term “forest bathing”.
There is also an abundance of negative ions after a heavy rainstorm, especially a thunderstorm (4).
To boost the benefits further, try walking barefoot, also known as grounding (5). This is easier on a beach where you can walk on soft sand.
However, take care in other places due to the presence of objects that could hurt your feet, such as thorns, splintered wood, or sharp stones.
It might be better to stand still and do deep breathing rather than walk in those places.
If going to the beach or the forest is impossible, you can still walk in the local park or sit outside in your garden or backyard.
Exposure to natural daylight first thing in the morning has proven benefits in resetting the sleep-wake cycle and improving sleep (6).
Bearing that getting a good night’s sleep is critical for brain health, as insomnia is a risk factor for reducing brain function and dementia (7), getting outside in nature, especially in the sunshine, is important.
So why not sit outside with your morning coffee and enjoy the sunrise, listen to the dawn chorus, or simply “just be”.
What if you don’t have a garden, back yard or even a balcony? Don’t worry; research has shown that filling your home with plants and pictures of nature also benefits your health (1).
Just a few minutes spent in nature can immediately boost our mood and help us to feel more relaxed and even healthier! Here are some ways that spending time outdoors can improve our well-being.
Boosts Mood and Reduces Stress
One of the most immediate benefits of spending time in nature is that it can help to improve our mood and reduce stress levels (8).
Numerous studies have shown that green space can help decrease anxiety and rumination (repeating negative thoughts) while increasing self-esteem, happiness, and general well-being (8).
Even if you don’t have time for a hike or a trip to the park, spending a few minutes outside in your backyard or walking around the block can make a big difference in how you’re feeling.
It Helps Us to Be More Active
Another great benefit of outdoor time is that it can help us to be more active and get the exercise we need.
Exercise is important for our overall health, and being active outdoors is a great way to ensure we’re getting enough.
Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, and playing sports are great ways to get active while enjoying some time in nature.
In addition, exercising outside motivates us to exercise more (12). Why run on a treadmill in the gym, looking at a blank wall, which is pretty soul-destroying, when you can run through trees, a river, or through fields with the wind in your hair?
Another productive way of being active outside is gardening. It satisfies you to produce fruit, vegetables, flowers, or just a neat garden, and gardening can also help protect your brain from decline (13).
Gardening is a great activity to get you in touch with nature; it is calming and relaxing, lowering stress levels and reducing anxiety. Plus, all that digging and weeding gets your heart pumping.
On top of that, any fruit or vegetables you grow are much more nutritious than the ones you buy in the store (14), which is good news for your body and brain.
Try not to be tempted to wear headphones when exercising or doing activities outdoors. In today’s tech-filled world, it’s important for us to unplug and unwind.
Being mindful and enjoying nature with all your senses is hugely important.
- If you are going barefoot, be aware of the ground beneath your feet;
- Look at the colors, shapes, and textures around you;
- Look at the clouds;
- Hear the sounds of the birds;
- Hear the waves crashing on the beach;
- hear the leaves rustling on the trees;
- Notice movement;
- Notice stillness.
Really pay attention.
Being mindful in nature takes relaxation to the next level, reduces anxiety, and boosts feelings of well-being. It will also leave you feeling refreshed and re-energized (15).
Improves Focus and Concentration
Being in nature has been shown to help improve focus and concentration, especially for children who often have trouble paying attention in school (16).
If you have trouble concentrating on work or school tasks, take a break and step outside for a few minutes; you might be surprised at how much better you feel afterward (17).
Connects Us with Other People
Spending time outdoors is also a great way to connect with other people – both family and friends.
When we’re inside all the time, it can be easy to become isolated, but being outside gives us opportunities to interact with others without distractions while enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.
Plan an outdoor activity with friends or family, or simply talk with someone you see while out and about.
We all need social connection for our mental health (18), so take some time each week to connect with others face-to-face!
Lowers Blood Pressure
According to a review of many studies, the overriding conclusion of those studies was that spending time in green spaces significantly lowers blood pressure (19).
This is likely due to the fact that being outside helps us to relax both physically and mentally.
High blood pressure can not only cause a stroke, which effectively kills part of the brain, but constant high blood pressure can cause the brain to age faster and lose function, eventually leading to dementia.
High blood pressure can also cause heart attacks, which is another good reason to keep it in check by getting outside in nature (20).
What Is The Best Way to Get Some Nature Into Your Life?
Spending at least two hours a week in nature enables you to enjoy the abovementioned benefits. A study found that this was the minimum necessary time (21). This could be managed by taking a 20-minute walk each day.
The best place to walk would be in a wooded area or on a beach. This is because trees and running water both emit those beneficial negative ions (22).
When you are stuck inside looking at your laptop screen or the television screen for hours, it is really important to get outside at least once a day, if only to rest your eyes.
However, as we know, there are many good reasons to spend more time outdoors, enjoying nature!
In Conclusion – How Nature Affects The Brain
From reducing stress levels to lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and helping you relax. But the part of your body that benefits the most from being outside in nature is your brain.
So get outside and enjoy nature, whether playing sports, walking barefoot along the seashore, hiking through the woods, or jumping in puddles after a thunderstorm.
No matter the weather, you can enjoy nature and reap its many benefits. What are you waiting for? Get dressed and go outside.
- Quantifying the Impact of Scenic Environments on Health https://www.nature.com/articles/srep16899
- Role of free radicals in human inflammatory diseases https://www.aimspress.com/article/10.3934/biophy.2017.4.596
- Charge transfer in the living matrix http://www.wildqi.com.au/resources/8B/13707/Other/Charge%20transfer%20in%20the%20living%20matrix.pdf
- The harmful effects of positive ions on your health https://www.ionloop.com/blog/the-harmful-effects-of-positive-ions-on-your-health/
- Electric Nutrition: The Surprising Health and Healing Benefits of Biological Grounding (Earthing) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James-Oschman/publication/320608127_Electric_Nutrition_The_Surprising_Health_and_Healing_Benefits_of_Biological_Grounding_Earthing/links/5b9645c34585153a531992ce/Electric-Nutrition-The-Surprising-Health-and-Healing-Benefits-of-Biological-Grounding-Earthing.pdf
- Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/light.html
- How Poor Sleep Affects the Brain https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation/lack-of-sleep-and-cognitive-impairment
- Green space, urbanity, and health: how strong is the relation? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566234/
- Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/
- The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
- Physical exercise and activity may be important in reducing dementia risk at any age https://n.neurology.org/content/92/8/362
- The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all https://extremephysiolmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2046-7648-2-3
- Benefits of Gardening Activities for Cognitive Function According to Measurement of Brain Nerve Growth Factor Levels https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6427672/
- Why Gardening Is Good for the Body and the Brain https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/how-my-brain-works/202204/why-gardening-is-good-the-body-and-the-brain
- 7 Reasons to Spend Mindful Time in Nature https://chopra.com/articles/7-reasons-to-spend-mindful-time-in-nature
- How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing? https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing
- This Might Be The Easiest Way To Boost Concentration And Memory https://www.businessinsider.com/boost-concentration-and-memory-by-going-outside-2014-8?r=US&IR=T
- Relationships and community: statistics https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/relationships-community-statistics
- Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8125471/
- High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868
- Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3
- Negative Air Ions and Their Effects on Human Health and Air Quality Improvement https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213340/