What are the benefits of being in nature?
Spending time outside in nature can promote many health benefits, including improved mental health. It is known to reduce stress levels, for example, whilst also elevating mood. Being in nature can also help to reduce pain, support weight loss, increase physical activity levels and improve health and wellbeing on a more general level.
6 health benefits that nature can bring
Now that we know nature can impact our health in many positive ways, let's take a closer look at why these effects can be seen.
1. Lower stress
People who spent more time in nature during the Coronavirus pandemic, which was undoubtedly a very stressful time, saw greater improvements to their mental wellbeing. (1)
Also, during this time, just living close to "green" areas increased the likelihood of experiencing mental health benefits. (2) This suggests that we don't always have to be active outdoors in order to experience positive mood-related effects.
We know that viewing natural areas helps to regulate the body's stress response which explains the improvement to mental wellbeing while spending time with nature. (3)
Gardening is one outdoor activity that is known to be particularly helpful in reducing acute stress. (4) It can lower the stress hormone cortisol and improve mood, with these effects found to be more significant after gardening than after other relaxing activities like reading.
2. Better mood
Being in the outdoors can also improve mood and self-esteem. Interestingly, spending just short but intense periods outside may bring the greatest benefit here. If you can get close to an area with some water, the improvements to mood can also be more significant. (5)
There are many ways in which nature can improve mood. Trying something new can boost confidence; exercising outdoors releases mood-boosting endorphins, and being outdoors can also be a really social activity which is good for mood.
3. Improved wellbeing
In one study, good health and wellbeing were found to be higher when individuals spent time outdoors compared to when they did not. These effects were seen in those with pre-existing health conditions and those without.
Here it did not matter how long the individual spent outside at a time (be it 20 minutes or 60 minutes), they still experienced benefits to their health and wellbeing. (5) So, whether you can only afford a small stint outside in your lunch time break or a longer stroll come the weekend, either is good for general health and wellbeing.
4. Physical activity levels increase
When individuals are advised to spend time in the outdoors by doctors, it has been found to improve their activity levels and quality of life with no negative side effects. In one study, for every "green prescription" given out, the individual achieved and sustained 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a week. (6)
Those involved in this study were perhaps inclined to follow their "green prescription" as it was recommended by a doctor. However, if you need support in getting outside more, remember that there are simply so many activities that can do! From kayaking to dog walking, get creative with what you try out!
5. Reduced pain level
Spending time in nature can also bring improvements to pain levels. A study testing this fact found that exposing people to sounds and scenes of nature at bed time reduced pain levels. This may be to do with the fact that these things are very calming. It could also be that they provide a distraction from the pain itself. (7)
6. Weight loss
Spending time with nature can also play a part in weight loss as the outdoors provides plenty of opportunities to get active. (8) For example, it encourages us to get away from technology like phones and television screens and engage with the natural world instead through walks, jogs and bike rides.
Outdoor activities may also encourage us to stay active for longer, which may further contribute to any weight loss goals. In the long run, this can go on to have a positive impact on other areas, such as improved heart health.