Ever wondered why being outside is so good for you? Here’s a thorough look at five benefits of spending time in nature for your mental health, immunity, and more.
If you’re cooped up indoors or hoping to get some more wind in your sails, it’s time to immerse yourself in nature. The combination of fresh air, natural habitats, and solitude can work wonders to:
Here’s why they say that nature is the best medicine.
Curious as to why nature is calming and why most of us need much more immersion in it?
Let’s take a closer look.
Shirin-yoku, aka forest bathing, is a widely championed form of natural therapy that’s been thoroughly studied in Japan.
The first major study of this form of nature therapy was conducted in 1995. It found that participants who walked amongst cedar trees for 40 minutes had lower cortisol levels (a key marker of stress) compared to those who walked in an indoor setting set to the same temperature and humidity.
The outdoor group also reported higher scores for vigor, as well as lower markers of:
From this study and many thereafter, it’s clear that the psychological benefits of spending time in nature can be quite remarkable. Fortunately, this rings especially when it comes to fighting stress.
Another pioneering investigation into shirin-yoku found that the benefits of nature extend to immune health.
According to the 2009 study, Japanese adults who spent a three-day, two-night trip in forest areas had increased “natural killer” (NK) activity that indicated stronger immune function. (NKs are a type of white blood cell with antibacterial and antifungal properties that helps kill damaging cells in the human body.) Further, the immune-boosting effects of NKs are partially attributed to phytoncides, aromatic compounds emitted by plants and trees.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, these health benefits lasted beyond 30 days after the trip ended. These impressive results suggest that spending a weekend in nature each month can support long-term immunity.
Tip: Treat yourself to healthful mini vacations in bespoke outposts nestled in nature. Team HUM recommends Getaway, which offers escapes in tiny cabins across the US specifically designed to help you disconnect.
Circling back to the psychological benefits of spending time in nature, respites from urban environments show measurable mental health improvements.
In a 2015 study, Stanford researchers found that participants who walked in nature (versus an urban setting) for 90 minutes:
Over half of the world’s population resides in urban areas and are at a significantly higher risk for mental health issues. So, when possible, retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city to experience the protective health benefits of nature and walking alike.
As one of my favorite writers puts it, “If I leave my phone at home and lift my gaze, I’m present. The world becomes larger.”
In the days before we were conditioned to admire good lighting and filters for selfies, nature was one of the primary sources of awe. And according to social psychologist Paul Piff, we should look away from our screens and other modern marvels to the trees above instead. In fact, doing so can make us kinder and less self-involved.
In one of Piff’s studies on awe, participants looked up either at towering eucalyptus trees or at a tall building for one minute. Participants in the nature group demonstrated more altruism, and also reported “increased ethicality and reduced feelings of entitlement.”
His body of work suggests that awe—including that invoked by the natural world—encourages giving, prosocial behavior and collective concern aided by “feelings of a small self.”
So the next time you find yourself overstimulated from doomscrolling or simply want to work on self-improvement, ditch your phone and head to the great outdoors.
When all is said and done, the benefits of spending time in nature extend to wellness at large.
A 2019 study demonstrates that two hours spent outdoors weekly is associated with self-reported good health and well-being. Better yet, you can reap these feel-good benefits by logging time outside intermittently throughout the week or in longer stints.
The benefits of spending time in nature go far beyond this list alone. However, it should serve as a friendly reminder of the wonders of Mother Nature and the world off our screens, inside our homes, and within our minds.
Whether you need a better solution to manage stress, a natural pick-me-up, or a new approach to staying active, get out of your head by venturing outdoors.