Improving Health Through Time Spent in Nature
By: Eva Timothy, USU Extension Assistant Professor
Nature as Medicine
Have you ever spent time in nature after a stressful day and noticed shortly after entering the green space that you feel calmer? Or have you gazed at a picture of a serene body of water embraced by majestic fall colored trees and felt a sense of awe? This is all due to nature's uncanny ability to positively affect the human body. It is well documented that one of the best ways for our bodies to produce Vitamin D is by spending short periods of time outside in the mid-day sun. But there is so much more nature can do for us! After approximately 10 minutes of basking in nature's glory, research has shown that our heart rate slows, stress levels decrease, concentration is restored. Furthermore, taking note of the wonder around us begins to positively influence our physical and mental state (Hansen, Jones, Tocchini, 2017).
Using green spaces as a means of improving health is not a new concept. In fact, in ancient Persia there were gardens throughout the busy capital where visitors and residents could go to relax. Our world has changed a great deal since the days of the Persian Empire, but what hasn’t changed are the benefits of spending time outside. The recommended amount of time needed to reap the health benefits of being outdoors is 2 hours per week (White, Alcock, Grellier, et al., 2019). Roughly 17 minutes per day is all that we need to begin aiding our body in increased well-being through time spent in mother nature. Dr. Nooshin Razani (2017), director of the Center for Nature and Health at the University of California, San Francisco, has suggested that our decreased time outdoors has a number of negative effects. For example, she believes that the decreased connection to the outdoors is partially contributing to an increase in mood disorders, reports of chronic pain, and rising depression rates. It is not known if the lack of time in nature directly causes these health issues, but there is likely a correlation between the two (Razani, 2017).
As more studies are completed in various parts of the world on the benefits nature has on our mental and physical well-being (for review, see Frumkin et al., 2017), some professionals have begun to use nature as a means for aiding mental and physical complaints. For example, an analysis of studies in the UK on spending time in green spaces found that over half to three fourths of participants felt more optimistic or could more confidently handle the symptoms of their mental health after engaging with nature (Natural England, 2017). So, what can you do to begin experiencing the innate benefits of nature? Take a break from your work, your social media accounts, and anything else that distracts you during the day, then go outside and take in the sights and sounds as you enjoy your green surroundings.
Here are some ideas for enjoying the great outdoors:
- Make your yard a desirable green space by planting some new vegetation
- Spend time in your garden
- Go for a walk in a park or your neighborhood
- Visit a local body of water where you can swim, paddleboard, kayak, or just float around
- Watch a sunrise or sunset
- Visit your local botanical garden or greenhouse
- Take a hike
- Sit by a stream and listen to the sounds around you
For more information on ecotherapy (also known as forest bathing, green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) visit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580555/ or https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6085576/.
- Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn, P. H., Jr, Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Tandon, P. S., Varanasi, U., Wolf, K. L., & Wood, S. A. (2017). Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environmental health perspectives, 125(7), 075001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1663
Hansen, M.M., Jones, R., Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14, 851.
Klepeis, N., Nelson, W., Ott, W. et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 11, 231–252 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jea.7500165
Natural England. (2017, January 18). Good practice in social prescribing for mental health: The role of nature-based interventions - NECR228. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5134438692814848
- Razani, N. (2017). Parks and Nature as a Human Right. Retrieved June Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByhTaTSU9Zw&feature=youtu.be
- Sorgen, C. (2013, June 19). Nature Therapy (Ecotherapy) Medical Benefits. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy#
- White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3