Improving your overall physical and psychological health could be as simple as going outside!

We intuitively know that we benefit from being outside.  When I’m feeling stressed, I like to sit out in the backyard or take a walk.  After some time outside I feel relaxed and more positive.  When my son gets restless and starts misbehaving, I take him outside to play or take him on an outdoor adventure and his behavior improves almost immediately.  Having this time outside just helps us feel better.  It seems that we need to connect with nature.

Health benefits

Researchers have recently started focusing on the health benefits of nature and now there is science to back up what we have intuitively known – it is essential for us to be connected to nature.

There is a great article from National Geographic called This Is Your Brain on Nature.  The article discusses many different studies about our need for a connection with nature.  These are a few of the most interesting results:

  • The National Recreation and Park Association conducted a study which concluded that “parks and other green environments are an essential component of a healthy human habitat”.
  • Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England conducted a study where they analyzed mental health data from 10,000 people living in cities.  They tracked where these people had lived over the previous 18 years and found that people living near more green space reported “less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”.
  • Even something as simple as living in close proximity to green space has its benefits. Dutch researchers found “a lower indictment of depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines” in people living within a ½ mile of a green space.  That’s pretty impressive!

At this time, researchers aren’t sure why nature has this impact on us.  However, they think the reason is that green spaces lower our stress levels, which impact so many other aspects of our health.  Experiments involving the nervous system (stress hormones, respiration, heart rate and sweating), show that “short doses of nature – or even pictures of the natural world – can calm people down and sharpen their performance”.

Silence

Another interesting and often overlooked benefit of nature is silence.  I recently read an article titled Putting silence under the microscope which discusses many different aspects of silence, including the health benefits.  Noise pollution has been identified by the World Health Organization (“WHO”) as a global health hazard, with impacts including “hearing impairment, sleep disturbance, mental-health effects, hypertension and increased blood pressure”.  Being surrounded by noise can cause us to be in a “constant state of stress, which can degrade our immune systems”.

According to a blog post from Wilderness.org, research suggests that “background noise can raise stress levels, aggravate certain medical conditions and even negatively affect memory”.  Nature often provides us with an escape from the noise that constantly surrounds us.  One of the findings discussed in this blog was that “preserving places where one can experience ambient nature sounds without interference from other sounds has been identified as one of Americans’ most important reasons for protecting national parks”.  This was surprising to me as I didn’t realize all of the negative benefits associated with constant noise.

The sound map below shows the noise levels throughout the US.  According to the journal Science, Yellowstone National Park and Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park were identified as two of the quietest places in the country, with decibel levels around 20, which would be a whisper or the sound of rustling leaves.  Contrast that with the average decibel level in most cities of 50-60 decibels, which is like being surrounded by conversation, office noise, background music, or an air conditioning unit running constantly.  In larger cities like Cairo, Egypt for example, the average decibel level was 85, which would be like living next to a running lawn mower.

Spending time in nature provides us with a break from all of the noise that we have grown accustomed to.

sound map, us, america, noise pollution

Source: NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division

 

Benefits to our kids

I am always looking for ways to entertain my son that do not involve the TV.  I have nothing against watching TV, even for him, but in moderation.  Because he enjoys being outside, that is where we spend a lot of our time.  I know that it makes him happy but I only recently learned about all the benefits he receives from spending so much time outside.

According to the National Wildlife Federation (“NWF”), “studies show outdoor time helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance.”

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (“NAEYC”) is a professional membership organization whose mission is to “promote high-quality early learning for young children”.  NAEYC offers an Early Childhood Accreditation to childcare programs who meet their high standards of excellence.  The organization also publishes content in the field of early childhood education.

My son is very active so I frequently visit NAEYC.org to get ideas for entertaining him.  While I was on their site, I found a newsletter that discusses the benefits of nature on children.  The newsletter indicates that we as humans are hardwired to need nature because we are a part of it and that children’s social, emotional, and physical development depends on exposure to nature.

These are some pretty major benefits for our kids!

Summary

When I think about spending time in nature, I immediately picture going hiking in the mountains.  But the research shows that you don’t have to do something as active as hiking to reap the benefits of nature.  According to the Dutch study discussed above, you can get the benefits just by living close to green space.  Stay tuned for further blogs on this and similar topics, including simple ways you can connect with nature!

We are part of nature – it is essential that we be connected to the natural world.  Nature provides us with numerous physical and mental health benefits and does wonders for our kids!  Many studies have been conducted that prove this and even if we didn’t have science to support this, we know the truth – nature makes us feel better.

I hope this encourages everyone to plan some outdoor time in the near future.   If you do, please share in the comments your stories or photos of your time outdoors.  We’d love to hear from you!