Spending time in nature has been clinically shown by a large body of evidence to be beneficial, even therapeutic – in many ways. Scientists in Japan researched the effect of spending time in nature on the body’s physical and psychological state. “Forest bathing,” as they called it, lowers stress and induces a state of “physiologic relaxation.”
Another study showed that trees and plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides that, when inhaled, can spur healthy biological changes similar to aromatherapy.
Do you think that’s esoteric nonsense? Think again. Dr. Qing Li, a professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that when people walk through or stay overnight in forests, they often exhibit changes in the blood that are associated with protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure. The trees’ natural fragrance appears to lower blood pressure by quelling the “fight-or-flight” response.
Being in nature has also been linked in recent studies to symptom relief in heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and attention disorders. “The quiet atmosphere, beautiful scenery, good smells and fresh, clean air, in forests all contribute to the effects,” says Li.
Spending time in green spaces can lower blood pressure in 10% of people with high blood pressure, according to a large June 2016 study, and by spending just 30 minutes in nature each week could help them get their hypertension under control.
Looking at a stunning waterfall or tall trees can also make you more helpful and unselfish by eliciting feelings of awe, researchers found. People who spent 60 seconds looking up at towering trees were more likely to report feeling awe, after which they were more likely to help a stranger than people who looked at an equally tall — but less awe-inspiring building.
“Experiences of awe attune people to things larger than themselves,” says Paul Piff after a 2015 study he helped conduct at the University of California, Irvine. “They cause individuals to feel less entitled, less selfish, and to behave in more generous and helping ways.” And regularly experiencing moments of awe has been linked to lower levels of inflammatory compounds in the body.
Being in nature can lower your risk of premature death. Women living in areas with a lot of vegetation had a 12% lower risk of death from all causes compared with people in least green places. For instance, breathing the air of nature increases the number of killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is associated a lower risk of cancer.
NK cells also are thought to have a role in combating infections and autoimmune disorders and a range of ailments, like heart disease and diabetes. Researchers found that people, who took two long walks through forests on consecutive days, increased their NK cells by 50% and the activity of these cells increased by 56%. Those activity levels remained 23% higher than usual for the month following the walks.
Spending time in nature can also reduce anxiety, mood changes and depression. One 2015 study showed that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting were less likely to ruminate, a key symptom of depression and anxiety. They also had lower activity in areas of the brain linked to depression than people who walked in urban areas.
It is also thought that the air around moving water, forests and mountains contains high levels of negative ions, which seem to reduce depression, according to another study.
Nature really knows best!!