Have you ever stood mesmerized at the ocean shoreline with the sand massaging the soles of your feet, entranced by the waves rolling in? Or gazed into the night sky at the moon and stars and felt lost in the moment, completely forgetting about time and space?
Nature has a magical way of slowing us down, capturing our attention with a stunning sunset or the beauty of a delicate butterfly fluttering through the air just inches from our faces, seamlessly erasing all thoughts prior to that special moment.
When I was little, before cell phones, PlayStations and iPads existed, I jumped at any opportunity to ride my bike, tumble in the grass, climb trees and make mud pies in the dirt. It just felt normal. As an adult, the more time I spend cooped up inside at my desk, on my computer and using other electronic devices, it just feels wrong! Eye strain, headaches and neck, back and wrist aches leave me longing for time in the great outdoors where I can stretch, breathe, move and feel the healing warmth of the sun on my body.
Health Benefits of Nature Include Improved Mood and Decreased Stress and Blood Pressure
In today’s technological, stress-filled environment, we need to pay attention to Mother Nature more than ever. Studies are showing the benefits of spending time in nature and the wonderful effects it has on our minds and bodies.
Lowered blood pressure, increased natural killer cells, improved mood and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, depression and stress are just a few of the proven health benefits of nature.
It’s not enough to just go outside. The quality of the outdoor environment you’re in has a large impact on how you feel. There’s a big difference between walking down the streets of a busy city and walking through a forest or traversing a hiking trail far away from civilization where the sounds go from planes, trains and automobiles to birds, bees and wind rustling through the trees or the gentle sound of a babbling brook.
There’s actually a term now used to describe all your senses being completely immersed in nature. It’s called “forest bathing.”
A Toyko Study Explores Forest Bathing and the Health Benefits of Nature
During a study by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health in the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan, healthy adult men spent three days and two nights in a forest, walking several hours through forest fields during the day. “The forest bathing trip significantly increased natural killer (NK) activity and the numbers of NK, perforin, granulysin and granzyme A/B-expressing cells and significantly decreased the concentration of adrenaline in urine,” according to the study.
“The increased NK activity lasted for more than seven days after the trip,” the study also notes. “In contrast, a city tourist visit did not increase NK activity, numbers of NK cells, nor the expression of selected intracellular anti-cancer proteins, and did not decrease the concentration of adrenaline in urine. Phytoncides such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene were detected in forest air but almost not in city air. These findings indicate that a forest bathing trip increased NK activity, number of NK cells and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins and that this effect lasted at least seven days after the trip.”
Watch a House Finch Sing on Tree Branches
Aromatherapy Effects Are Among the Many Health Benefits of Nature
The specific benefits I personally notice the moment I immerse myself in nature are immense. The scent of the trees, shrubs and flowers all around me have an instant aromatherapy effect and immediately put my mind and body at ease. The smell of pine trees take me back in time to family vacations camping at June Lake in California and memorable moments at my parent’s cabin in the mountains. The effortless melody of the house finches serenading me along a winding path are an instant mood boost. It feels as if they’re encouraging me to keep on keeping on, making my heart swell with joy. I feel happier and more accepting of life during such inspiriting performances.
A natural feeling of “All is well” will often wash over me as if nothing else matters in that moment. While moving briskly through the beautiful terrain of the moderate hiking trails in Laguna Beach, California, the clean ocean air feels invigorating, and I’m more energized as I oxygenate my lungs more deeply. The smell of the sage scrub lining much of the trails in Orange County, where I live, is pretty magical and very uplifting, too! Stress seems to melt away standing under a canopy of trees with green moss underfoot, watching cute little bunnies hopping in and out of bushes as they forage for food. There’s something about spending time with gentle animals in their natural environment that opens me up spiritually and makes me feel connected to all of creation.
It’s a great mini-reset to get out among any serene green space away from the hustle and bustle of life. I find it easier to clear my head and be more open-minded without the distractions of home and office pulling me in multiple directions.
I actually really love to just walk out in my back yard to admire the flowers and watch the birds, tend to the garden and enjoy some berries picked fresh from the vine. I do this especially if I don’t have the time to get away for a hike or walk deep in nature. Having a special space of my own is enough to calm my mind and body and leave me feeling refreshed and inspired, ready to take on the day.
If you haven’t taken the time to get out on a trail, walk through a forest or go to a large park and spend some quality time in a green space, get to it! The health benefits of nature are so worth it, and you’ll probably really enjoy the experience, too. With autumn arriving, the air will be much crisper and cleaner, and if you live in an area where the leaves change color this time of year, the scenery will be extra magical.
—L. Wolfe Gilbert