Are you stressed out? Overweight? Inactive? Bored with life? If you simply don’t care for where you are in life- then getting into nature and/or surrounding yourself with plants and trees can do wonders for your soul.
Based on science- those who spend time in nature are healthier, have more peace in their life, and remain serene in the midst of chaos.
My goal for this article is to encourage you to spend more time in nature (if you are not currently doing so) and provide you with information to make better choices that will improve your life overall. Being active in nature has a huge health benefits to both your mental and physical health.
The Effects of Nature Can Be Measured
It is my opinion that the stigma of loving nature can actually hinder people from actively seeking it more. I often hear the terms tree hugger, hippy, and hick to describe those who cherish their walks in the woods. I wrote an article on this- but I am actually proud to be in these categories. I have a very healthy immune system and am overall a happier person. Hippies are associated with peace for a reason. Nature is soothing to the soul, enhances creativity, and promotes well being. I think we are just scratching the surface, but I love how there is actual science to support the claims of how beneficial nature is.
Studies & Science
A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that healthcare services account for 10% of longevity, social and environmental factors account for twice this at 20%, genetics-30%, and individual Behavior is estimated at 40%. With this said, we can see how our environment and the decisions we make within this environment can form the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
In another study completed by an American Scientist, people who viewed stimulating natural scenes had an increase in the emu (opioid) receptors in the brain’s visual cortex. This is what makes being in nature so pleasurable for us compared to looking at brick walls or concrete in the city.
There is a rise in the link between urbanization and increasing rates of mental illness. Studies report those who live in the city have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders compared to folks in rural areas.
Many people live what Tony Robbins call, the “Boxed Life”. This is when you get in your box to drive to work, work in your box for 8 plus hours, drive home in your box, and then sit on the couch for the evenings/weekends and watch the Box.
Commuting in high traffic areas cause the brain to signal production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Before starting my current vocation, I commuted nearly 500 hours every year for 3 years. So I know first-hand the tole this takes on your mental state and physical health. The statistics on road rage are an indicator of the extreme stress people have while in traffic.
You are not crazy for feeling seriously agitated in traffic. You have to make numerous decisions while driving before you even get to work. The research on clutter and chaos states that what is in your environment is also going on in your brain and vice versa. So seeing all of the cars every single day, unpredictable, weaving in and out of traffic can definitely cause extreme stress and anxiety. No wonder you can be completely exhausted before you even get to work! Try negotiating with your employer to work from home – or at least 2-3 days per week. A great motivator and inspiring book is the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. This book can truly open your eyes to new ways of working!
So, to wrap back around to the studies, the increased level of cortisol interferes with learning and memory, weakens immune function, and increases weight gain, blood pressure and heart disease (Franke, Children, 2014).
Corporations & Hospital Studies
A study conducted by Robertson Cooper found that employees demonstrate a 15% increase in well-being when exposed to natural elements such as green plants, trees and sunlight (Humanspaces: Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace).
Another study conducted at the University of Oregon discovered that nearly 10% of employee absences can be attributed to being inside a building all day with no windows or views of trees and landscapes. The artificial lighting, stale air, and being surrounded by walls without windows are all contributors to employees calling in sick.
For Corporations to add windows, natural lighting, walking paths, plants and trees it would be an additional cost up front- but could save money in the long run. According to Integrated Benefits Institute, illness-related lost productivity costs companies $530 billion per year. It is very likely this number would go down drastically the more access employees had to green spaces.
Again- I can definitely relate to this example. When I worked Downtown, I would go for walks in 100 + plus heat with an umbrella (to keep the sun off of me). A lot of people would look at me funny, but I didn’t care. My office had zero windows; so to stay mentally healthy I had to get outside! I felt more energy and alert after returning from these walks. Have you heard of Secretary spread? It’s a bit derogatory, but very true. A lot of time spent sitting on your butt can make it big! Staying in shape was another huge motivator for me.
Incorporating nature into Hospitals also has its benefits. A 1984 study demonstrates patients with a view of nature from their hospital beds have stays that are 8.5% shorter, have improved outcomes and reduced healthcare costs. (Ulrich, Science, 1984)
Green Spaces & Places
A study tracked more than 3,000 children over 8 years- those kids that lived closer to the parks and had more access to recreational resources had lower Body Mass Indexes at age 18 than those who lived further away.
City planners of course have less control over individual children, but can make it a point to add parks, gardens and green spaces throughout the city and neighborhoods. These green spaces could be the change that allows a child to play soccer, ride their bike outside, or play with friends rather than staying indoors glued to a video game.
Having more plants, trees, and green spaces in general in the city also improves air quality. An article from New England Journal of Medicine states that once air pollution is reduced, children have improved lung function and fewer hospital visits.
I feel very fortunate to work in an industry that not only promotes, but provides these avenues to get into nature. We are able to take at risk youth on remote back country tent camps. These are kids that would never have the chance to get away from the city to experience the peace and quiet of nature. During the 3-5 day tent camping experience, they learn how to fish, go horseback riding and hiking to name a few.
My hope is that for whoever is reading this- that your community has access to green spaces where you live.
Being surrounded by nature has major benefits to both your mental and physical health. If you commute long hours, and work in a cubicle or office with no windows it is vitally important to counter with a hike in the woods, gardening, or some other activity that gets you into a green space.
For our youth today, it is critical to have parks throughout the City to provide them with places to play. Too much time indoors playing on electronics leads to being over weight and living a sedentary lifestyle. Hospitals and Corporations should do their best to incorporate green spaces into their environment.
I would love to hear how nature has affected your life or how certain businesses, etc. have incorporated nature! Please leave a comment below.