The goal of life is living in agreement with nature. – Zeno
Picture this: You are standing in the street, surrounded by tall buildings, traffic, noise, and concrete. Not too relaxing of an image, right? Now, picture this: blue skies, bird’s song, tall trees bending on the gentle wind, and soft grass under your feet. Even just by visualizing it, your body can feel the benefits of nature. The tension in your jaw and muscles slowly subsides, the headache that’s been bothering you all morning starts to calm down, and the emotional pressure goes away – if only for a couple of precious moments. This is the power of nature.
The connection between nature exposure and our health is as old as time. However, it is only recently in human evolution that we started living apart from nature, in our cities and megalopolis’. Researchers are now slowly catching up, trying to showcase actual causality between nature exposure and our health. Although we could say that we’ve always known this fundamental truth, it seems like we are just starting to realize it as we’re waking from our concrete slumber.
The Benefits of Natural Surroundings on Human Health
Whether going out for a walk or meeting a friend in a park, you can feel the health benefits of being outdoors. Soothing breezes, lush bushes and trees, and warm sun on your face naturally make you feel good. Even a simple physical activity as a walk around your block can nourish your senses when you’re in a mindful state. The sight of clouds and flowers and the beautiful sound of birds singing can calm your spirit and bring back inner peace and balance.
We humans have always been interested in the healing power of nature. There are numerous philosophical works, books, poems, and songs about nature’s beauty and its effect on our bodies, minds, and souls. One of the most famous nature gurus, Henry David Thoreau, has famously said: ‘There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.’ He fully understood nature’s power to heal, sensing that the forest, or any other natural setting, can quiet our minds and improve our health. Almost two centuries later, there is plenty of evidence on the healing power of nature to back him up.
Spending time in nature can be incredibly beneficial for our health. Just two hours spent in nature per week can reduce stress, improve overall feelings of happiness and well-being, combat depression, raise our energy level and even increase our capacity for caring. Recent discoveries have, in fact, shown that nature’s ability to heal both our physical and mental health and the health of our communities can happen in such small spaces as a neighborhood park, green schoolyard, or a community garden. This is good news for millions of people living in metropolitan areas whose daily lives can only bring them into contact with such modest versions of nature.
Health Benefits of Nature
Nature is a powerful force when it comes to healing our minds, bodies, and spirits. It helps us feel connected to one another, ourselves, and the wonder of our natural world. Nature can:
Boost our mood – Stepping outside into the warmth of a sunny day can almost instantly bring a smile to our face, and there is a perfectly good reason for that. Sunlight provides us with nourishing and energizing vitamin D, which has been known to boost our mood, calm the nervous system and improve such issues as a seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D also promotes calcium absorption, which can minimize the risk of cancer, hypertension, and certain autoimmune diseases.
It keeps us in the present – Unplugging from our daily lives and getting a nature fix allows us to focus on the now. When in nature, we can quiet our minds and take in the sights, smells, and sounds that surround us, fully experiencing the present moment. Just this basic form of meditation in a natural environment, where we focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, can substantially minimize stress and anxiety levels in our bodies.
It can energize us – While you may think a shot of espresso or an energy drink can help you get over an afternoon slump, a simple walk in the woods is a far better option. I’m not just saying this. In fact, a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology has shown that people who were exposed to the natural environment for just 20 minutes a day experienced elevated energy levels and better overall mood than those who stayed at home!
It can make us kinder – A study done by the University of Rochester has shown that people tend to be more kind, feel more generous, more connected to their communities, and be more socially conscious when exposed to nature. Surprisingly enough (or not!), even simply looking at photos of nature would reinforce feelings of connection with other living things, which in turn would remind people of fundamental values like generosity and caring.
It can strengthen our spirituality – There is a deeply spiritual side to connecting with nature which can provide us with a stronger sense of self. Although we are a part of the universe larger than we can even imagine, that doesn’t mean we can’t find comfort in the vast and awe-inspiring environment around us. Nature can help us reconnect by doing something as simple as dipping our toes in the ocean or walking barefoot over grass in our backyard.
Back to Nature
Considering the state of the world now is more important than ever to set aside any reluctance or judgment and finally walk among the trees or listen to the waves with bare feet in the sand, not just to heal ourselves but also to heal the earth. Perhaps the most positive thing that came out of this pandemic is how it forced people worldwide to realize that we are leading nature starved lives and that our wellness depends on the wellness of our planet.
The air was starting to clean up as the traffic decreased, global emissions dropped dramatically, the waters in bays and rivers began clearing, and consumerism and competition became obsolete as we collectively understood that our health and wellness were our real treasure. If we take the earth’s healing seriously, we will also take our own health seriously, and what better time to connect to our planet and ourselves to support this healing than now?