With life being on hold for many of us, it’s more important than ever to have some daily exercise and spend time in nature.
A lot of us know, or have heard, that spending time in nature offers many benefits. Or maybe you’ve simply noticed how good you feel being in green space, whatever the weather.
The good news is, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a small patch of green space in a city, or have totally escaped somewhere off the beaten track, like the south west coast path. Simply being surrounded by trees, open fields and wildlife can do wonders for our mental and physical health.
The University Of Exeter Study on Spending Time In Nature
A few years ago, the University of Exeter published some research that received a lot of attention. Their study revealed that spending just 2 hours a week in nature can have a positive impact on our physical and mental health.
Specifically, those who spent 2 or more hours in green space reported greater life satisfaction.
As life satisfaction is a measure of wellbeing, it’s a pretty big deal. 2 hours is the cut off though. Those who spent less than 2 hours a week outside showed no additional benefit.
These results were universal as well. They’re consistent across different populations and ethnic groups, those living in rural and urban areas, and those with disabilities and chronic health issues.
Even though this research got a lot of coverage, there’s actually been over 1000 studies on the healing power of nature in recent years. It’s no wonder ecotherapy, therapies that involve nature and being outside, are becoming more popular.
Looking more closely at the impact of nature on health and wellbeing, here are 10 amazing reasons for spending time in green space.
Life Satisfaction & Wellbeing
The study from the University of Exeter wasn’t the only one connecting time in nature with increased life satisfaction and wellbeing. How many of us, who are able to, make the most of daily walks or exercise while in lockdown? It’s become part of our routine and gives some structure to our days. Most importantly, I feel so much better for it.
Just taking regular time out and finding green space offers a balance to full and busy days. It feels more pertinent at the moment too, with our local daily exercise offering a much needed reprieve from life indoors.
Spending Time in Nature Relieves Stress
Time in green space is excellent for stress relief and promoting calm. As long as it’s safe, being in nature is probably one of the best antidotes to stress and arousal.
Science tells us that time outside can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones, like cortisol. Nature eases muscle tension too. It’s as if nature acts as a reset button, encouraging inner calm and regulation.
If life is stressful and hectic, I’ve a blog post with some extra tips on how to intentionally slow down when life is busy.
Better Brain Functioning
Not only does nature bring about calm and balance, it gets our brains functioning better. Having a break and spending time in nature helps concentration and attention.
It makes for better memory functioning too. It seems nature doesn’t just help reset our bodies, it also restores and promotes our minds.
Time In Nature, Mental Health and Happiness
There’s lots of information out there to support the positive influence nature has on our mood and emotions. It makes sense, especially as it lowers stress.
People who spent frequent periods in nature report a reduction in anxiety and depression, and an increase in self-esteem. While spending time in nature may not cure all worries and ills, it’s been shown to lift mood and alleviate a whirling mind. One study found happiness to be restored after just 15 minutes in a natural setting.
Given the strong connection between spending time outside and increased happiness, it’s no surprise that The Wildlife Trust have projects focusing on health and wellbeing.
Time Outside Promotes Social Connection
In line with having a positive influence on mood and depression, being outside helps buffer against loneliness and social isolation. Getting involved with local projects, such as beach cleans or rambling groups can be so worthwhile, offering opportunities for social connection.
Interestingly, one study revealed there are lower crime rates in places with greater social cohesion and connection with nature.
Getting Essential Vitamin D
We all need Vitamin D and it’s widely assumed that we don’t get enough, especially in winter. It seems the chances of getting enough during lockdown is even slimmer.
Vitamin D is essential for Calcium absorption and regulation. Therefore ensuring we get outdoors and find some green space is important all year round.
Natural Pain Relief
Believe it or not, simply seeing natural environments can aid pain relief and alter our perception of pain.
Some research findings suggest that people exposed to green spaces after surgery healed quicker and took less medication during recovery. Not only that, but having gardens and nature in hospitals can enhance mood and reduce stress. This will inevitably aid healing.
As if that’s not amazing on its own, simply having a bedside plant was found to have some effect.
Nature as a Moderator for Social Inequalities
Amazingly, some studies have shown spending time in nature can lower the risk of health problems associated with those who live in socially deprived areas. Therefore, having 2 hours a week, in a natural environment, could make a difference when it comes to health inequalities.
Furthermore, Ecominds, a scheme previously run by Mind, found those who engaged in outdoor based activities and ecotherapy were more likely to return to work and find employment. Perhaps this is related to the association between nature and improved self esteem.
Time In Nature Will Keep You Young
One study found that people over 70 years old, who regularly spent time outside, reported less age related aches and pains. Furthermore, accessing green space on a frequent basis is also believed to be a protective factor against dementia.
Greater Life Expectancy
Much like the benefits of living by the sea, having regular time in natural environments is related to reduced mortality. The quality of outside green space is particularly important when it comes to longevity too.
Given all the benefits already explained, it makes sense that time in nature improves immune functioning as well. It shows how much of an overall impact the physical and emotional changes initiated by nature can make over time.
When you stop and think about it, is it really surprising that spending quality time in nature can do so much for us? I may have offered 10 reasons for stepping outside, but they aren’t exclusive. I see them more as a domino effect, where one factor impacts on the other, and we feel a culmination of benefits to our physical and mental wellbeing.
You only have to look in the mirror to see the good a walk in nature has done. Rosey cheeks, a break from daily demands, and a sense that some weight has been lifted. If anything, I think lockdown has taught me how much good a daily walk can do.
There are many projects and schemes promoting the healing power of nature. The Forestry Commission has teamed up with the NHS and formed NHS Forest, which is full of information.