Spending time in nature is so therapeutic, the mental health community has given it it’s own name: eco-therapy or “green therapy.” Of course, the knowledge that being out in nature will improve your physical, emotional and mental well being is nothing new (remember your mom telling you to “go out and play?” She knew). But only recently have the benefits of therapeutic, outdoor immersion been researched by the scientific community.
It’s not hard to understand why people living in today’s high-tech, high-pressure, high-rise society often suffer from “nature deficit disorder.” That’s why it’s more important than ever to find time for getting out into the natural environment to recharge. Spending time in nature can take many forms, from gardening in your own yard to taking a walk in a local park, playing golf, hiking or spending time at the beach.
Recent studies have concluded that green therapy helps achieve an increased sense of well being, improved physical condition and fitness levels, enhanced immune system, improved mood, increased energy, lower risk of depression or, if you do suffer from depression, a reduction in your symptoms. Plus, spending time in nature combined with social connectivity and physical activity brings even more benefits and can be employed as a form of natural therapy for people who experience chronic physical, emotional and mental health problems.
Whether you are hiking through a verdant park or lying on a beach, when you spend time in nature, the sunlight and the fresh air have a positive impact on your health simply by raising your vitamin D levels. Even a half hour of exposure to natural sunlight increases your natural vitamin D production and elevates your mood. In fact, studies show that the debilitating symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are minimized simply by increasing your exposure to sunlight.
Spending more time outdoors can also improve your self-esteem and have positive effects on your physical health, especially by increasing your fitness level and helping you to lose excess weight. And it doesn’t have to be rigorous; no matter what your current fitness level, anyone can spend valuable time outdoors by taking on some light gardening, walking around the park or practicing meditation, yoga or tai-chi.<
Simply put, nature heals, soothes, restores and connects. Among the benefits of spending time in nature include:
- Vitamin D production increases, fighting depression, cancer, heart attacks, and osteoporosis.
- Natural sunlight, fresh air and beautiful scenery help to elevate your mood and increase feelings of well-being.
- Researchers have found that children with ADHD have markedly improved concentration after spending time outdoors.
- Faster healing. Studies have found that people recovering from spinal surgery may need less medication and experience less stress and pain when they are exposed to natural light.
Everything that you experience when you are in a natural environment – the air, the sounds, the scents, the soil and sky and flora – can transform your mood and improve the functioning of your immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Spending time in nature decreases muscle tension, stress hormones, heart rate and blood pressure. Just a short walk in the park before work and your day will be improved by reducing your levels of stress, anxiety, fear and anger and increasing your feelings of well-being.
Regardless of your geographic location, fitness level or age, spending time in nature every day can make a difference in how you feel about yourself and your life and will make you more emotionally, mentally and physically well. Now go outside and play!