evidence-based design for supportive environments

8 Health Benefits of Being Out in Nature

Spring is finally here! Time to shake off the winter blues and get outside. We have the evidence to explain the health benefits of why you should be spending more time in nature.

1. Reduced Anxiety & Depression

Rumination is what happens when you get really sad and you can’t stop thinking about it or what’s causing it, and scientists have linked this with higher risk for anxiety and depression.1 Don’t worry though, research shows that just 90 minutes of walking in a natural area shows decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.1 Nature is a positive distraction.

2. Decreased Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, however prolonged stress can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, and overall negative impact on school or work performance.2,3 Research proves that being out in nature decreases cortisol (a hormone released during accute stress), blood pressure, and heart rate.4 Also note that your immune system gets a 50% boost! 5

3. Increased Energy

Feeling sluggish? Don’t reach for that cup of coffee! Being outside in nature for only 20 minutes is enough to significantly boost your vitality levels. You won’t just have more energy for things you want to do, but you’ll be more resilient to physical illness. 9

4. 50% Lowered Risk of Chronic Illness

While nature does not cure illnesses right away, it does increase our immunity and significantly reduces the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, respiratory illness, asthma, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and so much more. 6

5. Increased Immunity

When you’re out in the forest you aren’t just breathing in fresh air. We also breath in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of white blood cells.7 This increase in our immunity can last up to 30 days from only two to three days spent out in the woods! 7,8 Next time you need a health boost, try going on a weekend camping trip.

6. Increased Vitamin D Production

Vitamin D synthesis is triggered when ultraviolet rays from the sun strike our skin, the most natural way for our bodies to absort the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is essential to our health and aids in fighting chronic disease, depression and insomnia.10 Yet nearly 50% of the population worldwide has vitamin D insufficiency because of lifestyle, or environmental factors.10 Idealy we’re supposed to be in the sun for about half the time it takes before we start turning pink or burning, so get outdoors and expose yourself to the sun! 11

7. Increased Weight Loss & Fitness

Did you know that 65% of Adults in the U.S. are overweight? And one in three adults are obese.12 This puts them at a very high level of risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.12 As a result, billions of dollars are spent in annual medical costs.12 Take some time to discover an outdoor activity you can enjoy, whether it’s a walk through the neighborhood park, or a hiking trip in the mountains. There’s always something for everyone.

8. Reduced Symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, ADHD)

“The greater the exposure to nature, the greater the attentiveness.” – Frances Kuo, Ph.D.13

When you have to struggle to maintain attention for too long without a break, you may experience “attention fatigue” which is a part of what ADD is. If left untreated, a person with ADHD could struggle in relationships with peers and family members, and performance at school or work.15 Studies show that time spent in green outdoor settings replenishes your system, and parents across the nation have confirmed that their kids with ADD who have come back from playing in nature are more focused.14,16

Conclusion

Contact with nature is an affordable, accessible and equitable form of medicine. Just 2 minutes of being exposed to nature will relieve stress 5, 2 hours will improve memory performance and attention span by 20% 17, and 2 days will increase levels of cancer fighting white blood cells by 50%.7,8 We challenge you to experience these benefits for yourself by getting outside!

Evidence

1 Bratman, Gregory N., J. Paul Hamilton, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross. "Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America. National Academy of Sciences, 28 May 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

2Aronson, Dina. "Cortisol - Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy." Todays Dietitian. Great Valley Publishing Company, Inc., Nov. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

3Sher L. Type D personality: The heart, stress, and cortisol. QJM. 2005;98(5):323-329.

4Tsunetsugu, Yuko, Bum-Jin Park, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki. "Trends in Research Related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing) in Japan." Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 2014, 27-37. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24858508.

5Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/.

6Kuo M (2015) How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Front. Psychol. 6:1093. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093

 7Li Q, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y,Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Kawada T, Park BJ, Ohira T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. (2009). Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 22(4):951-959. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/20074458/reload=0;jsessionid=BnlPLmTxArJ6VpF0s4MU.6.

8Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ. Health Prev. Med. 15, 9–17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3

9Ryan, Richard M., Netta Weinstein, Jessey Bernstein, Kirk Warren Brown, Louis Mistretta, and Marylene Gagne. "Vitalizing Effects of Being Outdoors and in Nature." Science Direct. Journal of Environmental Psychology, June 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

10Nair, Rathish, and Arun Maseeh. "Vitamin D: The “sunshine” Vitamin." Journal of Pharmacology &

Pharmacotherapeutics. Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Apr. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

11Terushkin V., Bender A., Psaty E.L., Engelsen O., Wang S.Q., Halpern A.C. Estimated equivalency of vitamin D production from natural sun exposure versus oral vitamin D supplementation across seasons at two US latitudes. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 June; 62 (6): 929.e1-9.

12Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. Overweight and Obesity. www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

13Sherman, Carl. "Green Time: A Natural Remedy for ADHD Symptoms." ADDitude Magazine. Apr. 2006. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

 14Kuo, Frances E., and Andrea Faber Taylor. "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study." American Journal of Public Health. © American Journal of Public Health 2004, Sept. 2004. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

15Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—A Public Health Perspective. Atlanta, Ga: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2001. NCBDDD publication 01-0602.

16Taylor, Andrea Faber, and Frances E. Kuo. "Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park." Sage Publications, 25 Aug. 2008. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

17Berman, Marc G., John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan. "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature." The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Association for Psychological Science, Dec. 2008. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

 

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