There is a direct connection between time spent in nature (sometimes non-medically referred to as Vitamin N) and your health. The benefits are plentiful and wide-ranging–from reducing stress, tension, mental fatigue, negativity, anxiety and depression to helping increase immunity against sickness and disease. All this, while stimulating higher work productivity, more focus and creativity, better bone health and decreased inflammation – and there’s more!
You’d think everyone would be spending time outdoors. However, according to the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, Americans only spend 2% of their time outdoors, 6% in transit, and 92% of their time indoors.
Are you spending quality time in nature, regularly? If not, your health and wellbeing can suffer. Interestingly too, the more high-tech life becomes, the more nature you need.
DR. NINA’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF NATURE
Here are some great (scientific) reasons to get time in nature today. . . and every day:
- Reduces Stress and Tension: Repeatedly, experimental studies have shown that within 3-5 minutes after participants take a break outdoors, or a short walk, that their heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension fell dramatically, when compared to others continuing their work indoors. Another study found that spending time in a forest compared to a city decreased heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Study-after-study underscores that connecting with nature – even in short bursts –
not only soothes, dissipates, and neutralizes perceptions of stressful situations (grand scheme of things concept) but also how your body reacts to it.
And benefits continue as experiencing nature can naturally boost your “feel-good” chemical, serotonin, while also increasing activity in parts of your brain that are linked to emotional stability, love and empathy.
- Boosts Energy—Mentally and Physically: Spending just 20 minutes outdoors can provide a comparable, natural energy surge to a cup of coffee. Studies also show that people who exercise outside, exercised longer, more often, and reap slight physical and psychological benefits over those who completed similar activities indoors. Speculation is that the benefit may be from getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D from sunlight. And when you exercise outdoors, you tend to breathe more deeply, inducing your brain and muscles with even more oxygen.
- Improves Focus: Spending time outdoors strengthens the ability to concentrate. Nature has been found to give your brain a break from everyday demands and over-stimulation which provides restorative benefits on attention levels.
In fact, modern research is also showing that being outdoors in nature can actually
improve your memory as well as your focus and attention–researchers report that just an hour of interacting with nature, improved memory and attention span by 20%!
- Improves Creativity, Inspiration and Problem-Solving: When searching for a solution – your answer may be just outside your door. Spending time outdoors gets your creative juices flowing. One study found that a hiking get-away outdoors improved problem-solving skills by 50%. Not a hiker?— No problem! Researchers have also found that going outdoors every day can increase your creative problem-solving skills by up to 50%, too.
Nature provides “encounter opportunities” that stimulates problem-solving and creative thinking because outdoor spaces are generally more varied and less structured than indoor spaces – which in turn boosts curiosity and the use of your imagination.
And most experts agree that while engaging with nature, you can distance yourself from technological stimulation, allowing the part of your brain that controls problem-solving skills and multitasking, to restore.
- Decreases Anxious Thoughts and Worry: Taking time to be in nature reduces your body’s levels of cortisol. It also helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and enhances your mental health as your mind relaxes.
Interestingly, experiencing nature increases the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for “rest and digestion.” Additionally, it slows down the heart rate. Thus, when your parasympathetic nervous system is active, the physical side effects of anxiety decrease and personal feelings of peace and relaxation increase.
And too, being in nature or taking a nature walk reduces anxiety and worry by dampening activity in the part of your brain’s prefrontal cortex which is active when you have “ruminating” thoughts, worries, and “what-ifs,” over and over. In nature, you gain a much-needed and welcomed break from anxiety’s rumination.
So, the next time you are feeling anxious, change your environment and get some fresh air. And experts advise to not pick-up your mobile phone to surf the web, check your social media or make calls. These activities have been associated with increased anxiety, stress, and nervousness.
- Decreases Pain and Discomfort: The human brain is drawn to and, in fact, engrossed by natural elements such as flowers, plants, bodies of water, the sky, and mountains. And, as a result, you become so engaged and distracted in it, that your attention can shift from the pain and discomfort that you may be experiencing. In fact, people suffering from chronic pain conditions have been shown to benefit from engagement with the great outdoors.
- Raises Vitamin D Levels: Many Americans are lacking Vitamin D because of their indoor lifestyles. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to osteoporosis, cancer, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and more.
Nearly 90% of our Vitamin D is from sunlight exposure and when you are exposed to natural sunlight, the Vitamin D helps to elevate your moods. Also, this essential vitamin helps to absorb calcium which is critical to your bone health, strengthens your immune system, and decreases inflammation.
Everyone needs to make a commitment to spending time in nature’s environments, regularly.
A walk in the park, a stroll in the garden or a planned getaway in nature is just what more medical doctors, like me, are prescribing today! Whether for an extended time or just a short jaunt outdoors – time in nature is vital for your mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Be sure to get your Vitamin N!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.