Close your eyes and let the back of your lids become a canvas. Think hard. Where is your favorite place in the world?
Do you see trees? Is there the sound of waves crashing on a shoreline or a lake lapping up on some small rocks? If so, you’re not alone.
For centuries, going on treks into the wilderness or even sitting in the local park for awhile have been well documented as having a restorative and reinvigorating effect on the psyche and the spirit. You’ve always suspected that something about the smell of salt in the air or the moss growing on the trees made you feel better about life, but there’s no need to rely on anecdotes- science has proved it.
An ever-growing body of research has been telling us that regularly spending time in nature is beneficial to human health.
– A study in Japan found that subjects had lower blood pressure, lower levels of adrenaline, and that “adiponectin, a hormone secreted by fat tissue” (and associated with fat loss), “were higher after the forest walk but not the urban walk.”
– Another out-of-Japan study found that, simply, participants had higher feelings of happiness in the forest than in the city, and lower levels of unhappy feelings. Also, parasympathetic nervous system (which controls systems like digestion) functions were strengthened and sympathetic nervous system activity (associated with fight-or-flight response and stress) were lowered when measured in the forest.
– Hospital patients recover faster when provided with a window that faces trees than without.
Essentially, there’s not much that doesn’t improve with regular visits to the forest or other natural places.
So, we know that these things make us feel better and function at the height of our abilities. But why?
One theory revolves around the ingrained affinities that we’ve inherited through our own distant past. For example, when humans were hunter-gathers as they were for the majority of human history, an environment that is lush and fertile with lots of trees and wildlife typically meant that food was nearby and easily obtained. The same goes for rivers, lakes, and the sea. These environments made food gathering much less time consuming and less risky, so less expensive in terms of human effort and risk.
Personally, I’ve come to believe that nature also provides us with a kind of philosophical health when we make it a part of our lives. Modern lifestyles have us worrying about small things that seem like big things and living the majority of our days spent in front of a small LCD screen. Being in nature helps us to connect back to our roots by reminding us that we’re always a part of something bigger and much more significant and powerful than our own lives.
This isn’t depressing- it’s liberating.
Sitting on a beach next to a forest, I can’t help but think that the thing that made me angry at work or a relationship issue really isn’t as big as I had thought it was at first. Similar to the way photosynthesis turns our soiled CO2 into oxygen again, the forest’s trees seem to breathe in our problems and break off the part that doesn’t belong, only to return it to us in a form we can digest as the riptide carries those problems away.
– Here are a few ways you can make nature a bigger part of your life- even if you live in the heart of the city.
– Have plants in your home (don’t forget to water them!)
– Include natural scenes on posters or photographs in your home and office
– Grow something. Anything.
– Plan a mid-week refresh in a local park
– Really do escape for an afternoon on the weekend.
-Go for regular lunchtime strolls where there is greenery or water or anything that is natural
-Let more sunlight in to your life
And be grateful that not everything on this planet is man made!