The Healing Effect of Nature

It’s summer time and I love it! I enjoy spending time outside working in my garden or going for a bike ride or walk with my family. But did you know there are numerous health benefits for spending time outside in nature?

For those of you that might enjoy spending a long weekend camping you’re probably benefiting in ways you never even realized. A study showed that adults who spent three days in the forest actually increased their white blood cell count. Moreover, the white blood cell increase lasted for more than 30 days after they left the forest. Not only that, but just a 15min walk in nature can significantly reduce the stress hormone cortisol while decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate. It also boosts your parasympathetic nervous system (which helps people relax) while decreasing the sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight – fear response), and boosts natural killer cells which are tumor and infection fighters.

Not only will your immune system, nervous, and cardiovascular system get a boost getting outside may also boost feelings of empathy, altruism, and decrease depressive rumination (i.e. thinking negative thoughts over and over and over again). A Stanford researcher scanned the brains of 38 volunteers before having them walk in a large park or on a busy street in an urban setting. Only the natures walkers showed decreased activity in an area of the brain tied to depressive rumination. Those results were then further validated by self-reports from the nature walkers. Can’t get outside, try looking at picture of nature. In a Korean study, volunteers were shown images of nature or urban scenes. In the participants viewing nature scenes an area of the brain lit up that is associated with empathy and altruism. In contrast the urban viewers had more blood flow to areas of the brain which processes fear and anxiety.

When you look out your window at home do you see a lot of trees and greenery or nearby park? If you do – good, because your risk of developing a disease just reduced. If you aren’t surrounded by trees or live near a park, and you’re looking for a new home take this into consideration. Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases in people that lived within a ½ mile of a greenspace. The strongest correlations included reduced risk for depression, anxiety, and respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal conditions such as lower back pain or neck pain.

Got some kiddos at home? Are any of them stressed out, prone to anxiety, or struggle with attention or focus? Well, they may benefit from getting out into nature especially since children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend an average of 6.5 hrs a day with electronic media! This has led to an influx of nature-deficit among kids, and research has shown that proximity to nature and exposure to natural settings enhanced children's cognitive abilities, especially in terms of executive function. More to the point, time in nature increased children's attention spans and abilities to focus, their creative thought processes, problem‐solving abilities, self‐discipline, and self‐regulation. Bottomline exposure to nature for kids and adults is important to our physical and emotional health.

Given this every growing body of research on the health benefits nature provides docs in California, Vermont, South Dakota, Maine, and New Mexico are staring to write prescriptions for spending time in nature. Hopefully this practice is coming soon to Missouri and elsewhere! But, don’t wait on your doctor, self-prescribe a daily dose of nature.

Want to read more about the studies mentioned above: