Have you ever wondered why just going outside seems to lift your spirits, clear your mind and leaves you feel more positive? Could nature be the miracle drug we've all been searching for?
The Japanese certainly appeared to be abreast of this concept in the 1980's when they developed a formal therapy called Shinrin-Yoku (now well known as forest bathing), designed to combat stress in the corporate world. Forest bathing literally means "to absorb the forest atmosphere." It's a conscious practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest with no specific destination in mind.
Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have conducted studies on the health benefits of spending time amongst the trees, demonstrating that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system.
Here are some of the ways that getting into nature can improve your mood and your general wellbeing:
- Reduced stress - Spending time in nature actually has a physiological effect on the body, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. Being in outdoor surroundings acts as nourishment for the brain, improving focus, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.
- Boosts the immune system - Trees are known to boost our immune system by releasing compounds called phytoncides (wood essential oils). These prompt our bodies to boost the production of particular cells that help to fight against infections and guard against tumours.
- Increased happiness - studies have shown that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
- Improved sleep - Light helps to regulate your natural biological clock and studies have shown that more natural light results in better sleep quality. Furthermore, those who spend more time outdoors, generally have greater levels of physical activity which also promotes better sleep.
- Increased absorption of Vitamin D - When out in sunlight, your skin synthesises vitamin D, an essential nutrient for healthy brain function. Vitamin D actually protects the neurons in the brain and reduces inflammation.
- Connection to each other - During a study using fMRI, when participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.
A few ways to spend more time in nature:
- Rise early to receive the first morning light.
- Exercise outdoors. The fresh air, uneven terrain of the earth, vitamin D from the sun, and the of sights and sounds of nature add so many benefits.
- Go outside with your morning cup of coffee.
- Find a special spot to revisit and notice the changing seasons.
- Start a garden. There is something therapeutic about tending to a living thing and reaping a harvest.
- Bring nature inside by houseplants and even pets.
- Go barefoot which leaves you feeling more grounded and connected.
"To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles."
- Mary Davis