Why The Great Outdoors Should Be Part of Your Healthcare Plan: Benefits of Being Immersed in Nature

Being in nature is being more frequently recognized as one of the most effective ‘prescriptions’ for treating depression and preventing other similar mental health disorders. As Caroline Arnold expresses in the video below, nature is essential for both physical and emotional well-being.

Caroline Arnold - TEDx - Get back to nature for good mental health

7 Reasons To Be In Nature
Here are seven more brain-related reasons you should be in nature!
1) Reduces Stress Levels
As Caroline outlined, there have been several studies that confirm that immersing oneself in nature lowers both the levels of stress hormones[1] Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as lowering heart rate.

The implications for the stress-alleviating effects of nature are far-reaching, as stress contributes to worsening the progression of all major lifestyle disorders, from neurodegenerative diseases to metabolic syndromes.

By default, reducing bodily stress levels helps with lowering heightened levels of inflammation, which in turn allows for pain reduction and less free radical activity.

Being outside also helps to reduce stress and improve your immune function in other ways.

Extra oxygen and sunlight both stimulate a better functioning immune system, reduced stress and inflammation. Sunlight especially promotes the release of Vitamin D3, a Vitamin we produce that helps to regulate sleep, which also plays a vital role in cognition, mental health, and many other biological processes.

Simply taking a stroll through the woods or appreciating the sunset near the ocean, you can drastically improve your health. Even just walking in a local park or your home garden during your breaks will help tremendously.

2) Improves Mood & Self Esteem
In all age groups, but especially in those with mental health problems, doing exercise in a natural setting promoted a drastic improvement in mood and self-esteem[2]What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.

It is well documented that nature promotes a feeling of deep connection with ourselves, others and all else in our environment. This connection appears to reduce anxiety and lifts our mood. It also helps us to feel more confident about ourselves – or rather, to feel less attached to outcomes and less isolated from our surroundings, in which case failure or success is less of a worry.

There have been many cases of those with clinical depression who found relief when they started going for walks in forests. As mentioned, this is becoming increasingly more popular in Japan with “forest bathing” due to the large amounts of suicides in their country.

So far, nature has had some truly beneficial effects on mood, perspective and depression. Spending time for nature is 100% pro life!

3) Makes You Smarter
Science has revealed that those who spend more time in nature are more relaxed, but they also tend to have better focus and a larger capacity to remember information [3] Horticultural therapy: the ‘healing garden’and gardening in rehabilitation measures at Danderyd hospital rehabilitation clinic, Sweden.

Several experiments revealed that those with ADD and ADHD benefited from spending a little bit of time outdoors. The improvements in focus were more drastic in these participants than in those who could focus normally; however, everybody seemed to receive the benefits.

In children especially, nature seems to unlock their curiosity, making them more likely to probe and explore their surroundings. This is how most major discoveries are made in our world today. Without introducing children to nature, they spend most of their time insid, and this need to explore the universe becomes dull.

4) More Oxygen Equates More Energy
Being near plants will increase your exposure to oxygen which helps to boost your immune function and allows for each of your cells – including your brain cells – to receive more oxygen.

Our cells use oxygen to create energy through the mitochondria. This is another reason why drinking water is fundamental as well as exercise.

Oxygenation has been proven to increase cognition, reduce stress levels, help tissues to regenerate and reduce pain in the body. When our mitochondria function optimally with enough oxygen and nutrients, they start to clean up the body too, detoxifying it of pollutants which contribute to the progression of neurodegenerative disorders.

Given that most people live in highly polluted city areas where they are slightly deprived of oxygen, it is not surprising that being in the vicinity of clean, fresh air from nature confers all these fantastic benefits!

5) Increases Productivity
There are a few experiments done on office workers in which having a plant in their workspace helped to promote productivity[4]The Effect of Healthy Workplaces on the Well-being and Productivity of Office Workers. The more plants, the better it was too!

Even just painting the walls of an office green or in a variety of natural colors helped in this regard. People were happier, more relaxed and delivered tasks on time with higher degrees of accuracy than those who were placed in different environments.

Considering nature makes you smarter and helps you to focus, it is not surprising that it also boosts productivity.

6) Enhances Social Cognition & Creativity
In nature, people find it easier to socialize and connect with one another, which enhances social cognition[5]Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention and sparks more creativity. Even in cases of autism where people are 100% socially awkward, nature bridged the gap!

Engaging positively in social activities releases a lot of positive neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These all work together to promote creativity, cognition, happier moods and even better empathy towards one another.

In city environments, this is more difficult to achieve as people feel stressed out and isolated from their surroundings. This is one of the number one reasons why depression is becoming one of the most prevalent disorders globally today. However, being in nature seems to solve all these problems!

7) Speeds Up Recovery
Last, but not least, being exposed to nature can speed up recovery time for those who have had a major operation or trauma.

In a hospital study, two large groups of patients who had just undergone surgeries were tested to see if being in a more natural setting made a difference to their recovery time. The one group was placed in wards which had green plants and flowers while the other group had no plants in their wards[6]Therapeutic Influences of Plants in Hospital Rooms on Surgical Recovery.

The group with flowers recovered a lot more quickly than those without and also reported better moods and a better quality of life while during their stay at the hospital. Just simply looking at some greenery each day made such a big difference!

Tips For Allowing More Nature Into Your Life
While many people are losing touch with their connection to nature, in an instant! Nature is everywhere and spending time in it is one of the best things you could do for yourself and your loved ones.
1) Invest In A Garden
If you have the space for it, take the time to create a garden that you would enjoy being in.

Trees, shrubs, flowers and some kind of green ground cover like grass or wonder lawn will all confer immense benefits. The process of growing and maintaining a garden is also a highly rewarding one that will have long-lasting effects for years to come.

Not to mention, doing so encourages less environmental destruction and more preservation of our planet!

2) Make Time For Natural Expeditions
Instead of spending time in the city during your off hours, plan a trip with your friends or family members to the great outdoors. The beach, mountains, nature reserves, forests – any place that has some form of nature.

If traveling is a problem, spend the day at a nearby park where there are trees or even take a trip to the local nursery. You won’t regret it!

3) Get Some Indoor Plants
Having an indoor plant can also help you to reap the benefits of nature. Get a few for both your home and your work environment if you can.

Here are some plants that grow easily indoors as well as ones that transmute toxic air pollution into higher levels of oxygen!

4) Surround Yourself With Natural Objects
Natural reminders are good ways to help integrate nature back into your life.

A shell that you collected off the beach, a special piece of wood that captured your attention in the woods or even a pebble you fetched while walking at the park will work. You can use these objects to take your mind off of problems, stilling it by admiring the beauty of nature.

Using natural images as a wallpaper on your desktop or filling your home with images of natural settings can also help, although not as effectively as being near a plant or a natural object.

5) Practice Mindfulness Meditation With A Green Emphasis
Another tool you can use to put yourself in a natural space of mind is mindfulness meditation, particularly with an emphasis on visualization.

Enhance your focus, reduce stress, and get a grip on how you perceive the world through learning how to meditate!

The brain can’t tell the difference between when it is dreaming or awake and often responds to any visual stimulus the same way, whether real or surreal. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself in a natural setting during meditation, it can significantly help to enhance both the effect of meditating and being in nature.

Meditating in nature is also one of the most relaxing activities known to man, however visualizing being in nature can “take you there” when you don’t otherwise have access.

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