I don’t tend to see things in black in white. I believe most issues are complicated, thorough evidence can be hard to come by, and valid arguments often exist on both sides of a debate. But in this case…I’m going to just go ahead and say:
No point in debating….
All signs point to the fact that….
Time spent in nature is good for your health.
In fact, it is hard to come up with very many health conditions that can’t be improved in some small (or possibly large) way by contact with nature. This isn’t going to be comprehensive by any means, but let me give you a few examples.
Depression, Anxiety and Stress
This is probably the biggest field where time in nature has demonstrated significant power over health and quality of life.
It is possible that our disconnection with nature was a driving force behind the pandemic of depression and anxiety in society today. It would be impossible to ethically experiment or tease apart the variables, but it does seem a likely candidate as a contributing factor.
Psychology researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have done a great deal of research on the topic of environmental psychology and have found a strong association between stress reduction and time in nature. Their book “The experience of nature” addresses this thoroughly.
Attention Deficit Disorder
I highly doubt that it was a coincidence that Richard Louv picked the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” for his popular theory on children’s dissociation with nature. Researchers have demonstrated how children with Attention Deficit issues can improve their symptoms through nature contact.
Physical and Mental Health Link:
Mental Health and Physical Health are so closely related, that symptoms and suffering experienced due to physical illness can often be improved by dealing with mental health. In Mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy, they call mental suffering the “second arrow.” We suffer once from pain, and a second time from thinking about the pain, and replaying things over and over. Another blogger explains it here.
So, it can easily be said that any of the mental health benefits we attain from time in nature, will be transferable to our physical health. Here’s a great example:
But, there are also more direct physical health benefits.
One of the biggest health problems in North America today is the obesity epidemic. Obesity leads to a host of other health problems, and is appearing in younger and younger children. I don’t think I really need to tell you that physical activity is one of the keys to battling obesity, but it does bear mentioning that a community that promotes active transportation, and provides pleasant options for walking or cycling (such as a network of trails) is likely to be more successful in this battle.
On that note, any health conditions that can be improved by physical activity would be subject to this argument. Regular physical activity helps prevent countless conditions, but it can also improve existing ones. While we’re on this, I might as well say that physical activity improves lung function, heart muscle strength, and blood pressure. It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack, and helps regulate blood sugar. (National Institute of Health)
BUT! you may argue, there are other ways to get physical activity. Yes, there are. But where would you rather go for a jog?
So, these might seem a little obvious….but wait, there’s more!
In Japan, something called “Shinrinyoku” or “Forest Bathing” has become a popular health treatment. These researchers found improved immune function resulted from time in nature.
There is also a measurable reduction in blood pressure during “forest bathing.” This may be in addition to the blood pressure benefits from regular exercise, but I’m not entirely sure.
Nearsighted? Me too. But, increasing time spent outdoors may help prevent the development of myopia. Too late for me….but what about the kids? Check out this meta-analysis.
The artificial light sources that we experience for most of the day are likely messing with our circadian rhythms. Want a reset? Try camping! This wasn’t a huge study, but if the results tell me to go camping, I’m in.
I don’t really have to stop there, but this is getting really long. Thanks for reading this far by the way.
So, whether you’re suffering from Insomnia, Myopia, Anxiety, Heart Disease, Attention difficulties, or, if you just need a break from American Politics… there’s a trail for what ails you.
Faber Taylor A, Kuo FE, Sullivan WC. (2001) Coping with ADD: the surprising connection to green play settings. Environ Behav. 33:54–77.
Grahn, P & Stigsdotter, U. (2003). Landscape Planning and Stress. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening Vol 2, pp 1-18 (2003). Urban & Fischer Verlag, Jena
Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S. (1989) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17.
Mao G.X., Cao, Y.B., Lan, X.G., He, Z.H., Chen, Z.M., Wang, Y.Z., Hu, X.L., Lv, Y.D., Wang, G.F., Yan, J. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. Journal of Cardiology. 60:495-502.
Raanaas, R. K., Patil, G., & Alve, G. (2015). Patients’ recovery experiences of indoor plants and views of nature in a rehabilitation center. Work, 53(1), 45-55.
Sherwin JC, Reacher MH, Keogh RH, Khawaja AP, Mackey DA, Foster PJ.(2012) The association between time spent outdoors and myopia in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ophthalmology. 119(10):2141-51
Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 224:420-422.
Other Websites and Articles:
National Institute of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/phys/benefits
Scientific American article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trouble-sleeping-go-campi/