Chelsea Burns, Content Editor
May 11, 2023
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and though it’s likely common knowledge, it bears repeating how important nature is to our mental health. There’s a reason you’ll often hear people say they went on a walk to clear their head—research has shown that being out in nature has positive mental health benefits including reducing your blood pressure, muscle tension, and stress hormones. One study even found that exposure to green spaces lowered the study’s participants’ mortality rate by 12 percent. Some additional perks of getting outside:
Relaxes the mind and body: A study done in Japan on forest therapy found that parasympathetic nerve activity increased by 55%, indicating a relaxed state.
Improves immune function: That same study found that natural killer cells (an indicator of immune function) activity increased by 56% and a 23% increase was sustained even a month after they went back to their urban life setting.
Prevents psychiatric disorders: A study found that children who grew up with the lowest levels of green space had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder
Decrease in depression and anxiety: Increasing our interaction with natural elements through touch – literally getting dirt under our nails – is both psychologically therapeutic and neurologically nourishing.
Increased focus: Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits
How much time do you need in nature?
The good news is that you don't have to move into the woods or cut yourself off from society to be able to reap the benefits of being in nature. Research has found that the ideal amount of time to see a positive correlation is just two hours a week. “People who had spent at least two recreational hours in nature during the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being,” said The New York Times. And those two hours don't have to be all at once. The research found the same benefits for people who spaced that time out throughout the week (that’s 20 minutes a day if you don’t want to do the math).
Can’t get outside? Try this instead
On days when you can’t meet your 20 minute threshold—for whatever reason—there are other ways you can get similar benefits even while you’re indoors.
Listen to sounds of nature: Research found that study participants who listened to nature sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better on demanding cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds like traffic and the clatter of a busy café.
Watch a nature documentary: Though time in the actual outdoors is best, looking at nature also has benefits including improvements in attention, positive emotions and the ability to reflect on a life problem. (source)
Move your desk to be in front of a window: For similar reasons to those above—simply looking at nature can help give you a sense of calm and lower anxiety.
It's important to note that the impact of nature on mental health can vary among individuals, and the specific activities and environments that bring the most benefit may differ. However, overall, spending time in nature and incorporating it into daily routines can have a profound positive impact on mental well-being. Just one more point for mother Earth!