While nature has been a source of comfort and inspiration for humans throughout history, the benefits of a stroll in the woods may be much more profound than we realize. In fact, recent studies have shown that exposure to nature can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and even speed up the healing process.
One of the better known benefits of nature is its ability to reduce stress. Stress is a massive problem in our daily lives, making us both miserable and sick. But the great news is that even a short walk in a natural setting can reduce cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress) and increase feelings of calm and well-being.
And if that’s not enough for you, research also indicates that same walk may be improving our attention span, creativity, and even memory. One study found that participants who took a nature walk before a difficult cognitive test performed significantly better than those who took a walk in the city.
Beyond these higher level brain function, regular doses of Nature can also play a role in healing physical illness. A study published in the journal Health Promotion International found that patients recovering from surgery who had a view of trees and greenery from their hospital window had shorter hospital stays and required less pain medication than patients with a view of a brick wall.
The healing power of nature is not limited to just physical illnesses. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that spending time in a forest environment was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
But what is it about nature that makes it so beneficial for our health? One theory is that exposure to nature helps to restore our attention and cognitive function by giving our brains a break from the constant stimulation of modern life. Another angle posits that spending time in non-reactive environments releases us from the grip of dealing with human feedback to our behavior, and frees us from the anxiety of being constantly ‘witnessed’. Obvious is the role of fresh air and exercise that accompanies time spent in nature at improving cardiovascular health. These in combination have shown across numerous studies to promote physical, mental and psychospiritual well-being, accelerating healing and reducing inflammation.
Whatever the mechanism, research supports the notion (as does our intuition) that Nature has a restorative effect on our bodies and minds. By making a habit of spending time in nature, not only will you get a better view, but maybe an improved overall outlook as well.