“Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” – Hans Christian Andersen
The wind had me feeling topsy turvy today. You know when it’s so windy that you feel a little untethered? Sometimes in this weather I get the sense that something wild is coming, and it can feel a little unsettling. The windy day, combined with a little too much time indoors and not being as productive as I would have liked was a recipe for anxiety to rear its ugly head. Instead of fighting with this feeling and forcing myself to “push through it” – I decided that (despite the weather) I needed to get outside.
I ended up driving to a gorgeous rail trail in the forest, and within a few minutes, my mood had completely shifted. It was still wild and windy but I felt oddly calm – it was almost like being in the eye of the storm. I was taking in my surroundings, smiling and feeling lighter than I had all day. There were gorgeous wood pigeons and willy wagtails darting around, and the honeyed smell of jasmine was wafting past every now and then. With the wind blowing in my hair and clothes, the trees swaying back and forth under the pressure, I suddenly realised – this is exactly what I needed. I don’t think there is anything else I could have done that would have had such an instant positive effect on my mood than being out in nature.
Even though I know being outdoors is good for me and I am a huge nature lover – sometimes I still forget to make time for it. We can all be guilty of avoiding the things we know are good for us, it’s a strange (and very human) habit. So with this in mind I thought I would write a blog to remind myself (and hopefully you too) about the enormous benefits of spending more time in nature. Trust me – you’ll be doing your brain and body a big favour.
Our Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Spend More Time in Nature
IT HELPS YOU FOCUS
Research has shown that when people spend time in nature, it can help their ability to concentrate. For example, one particular study showed that taking a stroll in the park (or even just looking at green space) helped to reduce brain fatigue and increase the participants' concentration. In another study of university dormitory students, researchers found that those students with "views to nature" from their windows scored better on attention focused tests than those with less natural views. There have also been studies that showed children with ADHD improved performance on cognitive tests after spending time in nature - the researchers findings concluded that "a dose of nature" would improve concentration for people with or without ADHD.
Spending time outside can also remind us that there is so much more to life than the worries we are holding on to. When we look around at the trees and listen to the birds it helps us to feel more connected, and as a result, less distracted by the stressful thoughts we were having before we got there. It’s exactly why that crazy windy anxious day turned around for me once I was outside walking and surrounded by nature. When I got back home I was able to write this blog and get a lot of other jobs done that I had been struggling with all day.
IT CAN IMPROVE YOUR SHORT TERM MEMORY
Does anyone else feel like they can’t remember what they did last week let alone last year? Sometimes I feel like we are consuming so much information that we are losing the ability for it to have any true meaning. That feeling of calm and clarity we feel after we’ve had a holiday is something we all wish we could hold onto – however in reality it’s hard to do when you are living a busy life.
Apparently it is even harder if you live in the city. Researches believe that city dwellers could be unintentionally “tiring” out their brains. This is because being in a city requires your brain to process more information than being in nature. When our brains are constantly barraged with traffic, people, lights, noises etc - it basically gets exhausted. I sometimes get overwhelmed and drained after a few minutes in a shopping centre – now I know why!
"The mind is a limited machine,"says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. "And we're beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations." - Quote taken from this Boston Globe article
The good news is there are things we can do to give our minds a “mini break” and our bodies a bit of space to breathe. One of the best things we can do to improve our memory, energy, focus and more is giving ourselves a good old nature fix. Many studies show that nature walks have memory boosting effects that other types of walks don’t. A simple test done by University of Michigan tested a group of walkers through an arboretum versus city streets, and showed the people who walked through the arboretum improved memory tests by 20%. Whereas, the folks walking through city streets showed no noticeable improvement. Pretty amazing, huh?
YOU’RE LESS LIKELY TO BE DEPRESSED OR STRESSED
That’s right. The closer you live to green space may mean the less you suffer from anxiety and depression. In fact, studies are even showing that nature can have a de-stressing effect. For example one study showed that being outdoors can change the physical response to stress in our bodies. Students sent out into the forest for two nights showed lower levels of cortisol (a common marker for stress) than those students who spent their time in the city.
A different study showed that heart rates also decreased along with cortisol levels, which drew them to the conclusion that “stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy.” The good news is that even a view of nature through your office window has shown to be associated with lower stress levels and improved satisfaction at work. A great conversation topic to bring up with your boss!
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
So we now know that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues may be reduced by time spent outdoors - but did you know we can boost the mental health benefits even further? We can do this by combining our time in nature with exercise! If it’s practical for you, try swapping out a run or walk on the treadmill for a run around a park or another green space near you.
“Green exercise” is something I can definitely vouch for. There are so many points in my life where I’ve found solace walking through a beautiful park or even the forest. So if you’re feeling like nothing else is working – what can it hurt to try some “green exercise” as part of your own mental health plan?
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
When we experience nature we often experience a sense of awe or wonder. That feeling of reverence when witnessing the beauty of a sunrise or the vastness of a waterfall can be linked to lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines - which are markers for inflammation in our body (exercise is another great way to reduce inflammation). Along with this positive physical health benefit, stopping to appreciate a sunrise, waterfall or even just a pretty flower can also bring us back to the present moment and increase our satisfaction levels. I think we all know and love this feeling, but it’s great to know that science backs it too!
Time in nature also helps to promote a healthier gut microbiome, and when you consider 80% of our immune system is located in our gut – this is a huge benefit. Part of the reason has to do with our body switching into “rest and digest” mode – something that it does when we are relaxed and surrounded by beautiful trees, rivers, or other natural environments. When our body relaxes and switches into this mode, it can spend the time doing the things that improve our health – as opposed to when our body is in “fight or flight” mode, a time when our body sets our immune system to one side.
Another reason that nature and in particular, forests, could be positively impacting our immunity is by exposing us to phytoncides – this is an essential oil that trees and certain plants produce to protect themselves from harmful insects and bacteria. Studies show that when this substance enters our body (often through breathing in forest air), our immune system responds by increasing the number of specific types of white blood cells called natural killer cells. These cells are important for our health as they are known for killing virally infected cells, and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer.
So naturally it makes sense that people who spend time in places such as forests and parks may also experience increased immune function. You may have heard about the recent phenomenon of “forest bathing” - if you're curious about this concept you can find out more about it here.
BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU FEEL CONTENT AND HAPPY
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – William Shakespeare
In summary, there is no doubt that spending time in or around nature makes us happier. The sense of awe I talked about above has been shown to increase our feelings of compassion and connectedness towards others. Nature reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, which encourages a shift of perspective and clarity that we sometimes lose touch with in our day to day lives. When we connect to nature we connect to something deep within ourselves – it’s a feeling I can only compare to meditation – which is why I often say walking is my meditation!
The good news is that even if you can’t get outside - some indoor plants can do the trick! Analysis of decades of research shows that indoor plants cleanse toxins from the air and in general just make us feel good. You can read more about the incredible benefits of indoor plants here.
So if you REALLY can’t leave the office how about bringing the outside in by adding a couple of plants to your desk?
When it comes to your home you can go even more wild with plant buying! It’s amazing how plants can transform a room - it’s like walking into an instant relaxing oasis.
If you’re nervous about caring for your plants, or wanting to boost the health of your existing plant range then we can help you to keep them lush and happy with our range of organic indoor plant care by Munash Organics. Both the foliage spray and soil food are incredibly easy to use and perfect for all levels of plant experience. You don't have to be a green thumb to own some houseplants!
So it turns out nature is not only beneficial to our health and wellbeing – but is an essential part of it. Let’s all try to make it a habit to spend more time doing the things that are good for us: exercise outside instead of going to the gym; spend time observing your garden; have lunch outdoors; go for forest walks; buy some indoor plants and spend as much of your weekends as you can out in nature.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” - Edward Abbey