Now that it’s autumn, we might not spend as much time in nature as in summer, specially if we were on holidays at the mountain or by the sea. But it’s still important to try to spend time in nature and enjoy it.
As a society, we spend too long indoors, too long sitting down, too long in front of screens. However, we should make it a priority to spend time in nature – it is not a luxury, it is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing.
It has been demonstrated that spending time in nature has lots of health benefits:
It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels
It enhances the immune system function
It reduces anxiety and improves mood in general.
The Japanese have been researching for years the benefits of ‘shinrin’yoku’ or forest bathing. They take measures such as blood pressure or the level of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) before and after a nature walk. And in most cases, there is a significant drop in both blood pressure and cortisol after the walk.
The benefits of forest walks are due to several factors and affect all senses. For example:
Sight: viewing the fractal patterns of leaves and plants has a soothing effect on our brains. It makes our brain produce the feel-good alpha brainwaves of a relaxed state, similar to those released when listening to music.
Smell: some trees release certain essential oils called phytoncides which significantly boost the activity of our natural killer (NK) cells, i.e., they boost our immunity (1).
Hearing: enjoying the soothing sounds of nature rather than the loud man-made noises in cities has a relaxing effect on our brains. This is because they are the sounds with which we evolved as humans. In contrast, man-made noises such as traffic noise or planes affect our stress levels.
According to a scientific study, spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing (2). 120 minutes amounts to going for a 1-hour walk a couple of times a week, or a 20-minute walk 6 days a week. Some people might think that they don’t have time for that. However, to put things in perspective, Irish adults spend an average of 2h per day on social media and 3h 20 min watching TV! (3)
Therefore, if you want to enjoy better health and wellbeing, make it a priority to spend enough time in nature every week. Even if you don’t have a forest nearby, you can still enjoy nature in an urban park, at the beach, by farmland… Just breathe it in, leave any electronic devices behind, and enjoy your surroundings!