NATIONAL PUBLIC LANDS DAY SPECIAL -- September 24, 2022 -- Did you know that spending time in nature lowers stress and delivers a wide range of psychological and physiological health benefits? Mounting scientific research suggests spending two hours in nature a week, promotes good health and psychological well-being. And according to this study it didn’t matter if it was one long visit or several shorter visits every week. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
This study corroborates previous research that finds people living in and around greener urban areas have less cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, mental distress and even lower mortality. And although the researchers acknowledged that typically time spent in nature is often associated with higher levels of physical activity, the research indicated some benefits cannot be due solely to activity.
So, it doesn’t matter whether you are walking through a wooded trail, or just sitting in a park and taking it in, being outside in nature is beneficial.
Another study out of Sweden sought to identify if adding urban green spaces to city planning would help reduce stress. They looked at experiencing “nature and green spaces” using virtual reality, accompanied with olfactory (odors) and auditory (sounds) stimuli, researchers found participants did lower their stress response when experiencing the green environments virtually. However, interestingly it appeared that olfactory stimuli were stronger at reducing stress than visual stimuli.
And it’s not surprising that the Japanese would value time in nature and the forest. Because as an island with 75% of it, uninhabitable mountains and forest, it is very densely populated in urban areas along its exterior coasts such as cities like Tokyo which is listed as one of the world’s most crowded cities. Studies from there found being in a nature and forest settings promote lower stress hormone levels such as cortisol, lower sympathetic nerve activity responsible for hormones like adrenaline which results in lower blood pressure and heart rate, when compared to city environments. They even have a name for it in Japanese called “Shinrin-yoku,” which is translated as “forest bathing,” and it can come just from merely sitting passively in natural settings.
That’s probably why I bought my home 25 years ago on 15 wooded acres that can’t be developed. I’ll walk my dog a couple of times a day as an excuse to get some fresh air, natural sunlight, and a feeling of being immersed in nature. There’s a serenity waiting for us there. And it helps me put life into proper perspective, appreciating the wonders of nature.
I’m good at shinrin-yoku as well. I love to listen to sounds of nature, the woodpeckers, and the cicadas as well as taking in that earthy mossy fresh smell while walking through our woods along the stream that runs through it.
Sometimes I’ll just sit on my back deck at night and watch the beautiful little owls sitting in the tree seemingly staring back and hooting. I can see the graceful bats gliding through the dusk sky. My deck is a peaceful place. Maybe it’s because I get to close the door on the workday, focus on the beauty around me, and breathe in fresh air. Or maybe it’s because I feel grateful to be a part of something bigger.
Regardless, it feels good to take a nature bath.
- Dr. Leigh
P.S. Learn more about National Public Lands Day here.