The wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Ever since we were children we were told to ‘go play outside’ because it would ‘do us good.’ When feelings and thoughts get muddled we are often encouraged to go for a walk to ‘clear out the cobwebs.’ Human beings and nature, in many ways, have drifted apart in the modern world and yet we remain intrinsically entwined. Unfortunately, we are coming now to know the effect we are having on nature, but what of the effect that nature has on us?
In 2020 the world locked down and at the same time, for many of us, it opened up. With shops, cafes and pubs closed we found our way back to the countryside, the woods and the beaches (crowds permitted). We spoke of the many wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature, the rediscovery of our connection with the natural world, the calming effects and wonderment. Yet, as we begin to go back to offices, indoors socialising and return to the daily grind, many of us are finding our internal resolution to spend more time in nature, wearing.
Therefore, this is the perfect time to review just why all those walks in the countryside and exploring our rural areas helped us to reconnect, not just with the natural world, but with ourselves. Here are just five wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature:
We all know we’re spending too much time on screens. For work and for leisure. However, as many advantages as working from home has, time spent in front of computer screens is not one of them. In fact, a survey by Fight For Sight ( https://www.fightforsight.org.uk/news-and-articles/articles/news/screen-time/ )in 2021 found that 49% claimed their screen time had increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, 50% of students surveyed and 43% of working adults believe their eyesight has been negatively affected by an increase in screen time.
At home, we’re probably less likely to take unconscious breaks from our computer screens because we’re not attending meetings, nipping out to the shops for takeaway lunches or chit-chatting with colleagues at the coffee machine. Even for those who don’t work on computers, screen time is likely to have increased in recent years now that our phones, tablets, computers and TVs host our social media, shopping experiences, news, email, communications and entertainment.
So how can taking a break to walk outside, help our vision?
Being outside exposes us to natural light which is better for our eyesight. It also exercises our eyes as we are literally looking farther. There are two problems with being on screens for too long. Firstly, the unnatural light strains our eyes. Secondly, our eyes get used to seeing close up. Consider your other muscles - if you sat for long periods of time every day, your muscles would get less used to stretching and retracting and this then makes movement more challenging. It’s the same with your eyesight, which is why it’s so important to get outside and give your eyes some exercise.
You might remember your parents or even grandparents encouraging you to go outside and get some ‘fresh air.’ Unlike the other myths that you might have been told (carrots help you see in the dark and crusts make your hair curly are the two untruths that spring to mind), the claim that fresh air does us good is 100% true!
At home, in offices and in our cars we are getting circulated air that quickly becomes stale. Obviously, it’s a lot better than none, but nowhere near as good as the real stuff available just outside your front door.
When exposed to fresh air we breathe more deeply. This gets air right into the bottom of our lungs. Not only does this draw in more oxygen but it also helps to clear out the toxins that can accumulate. Think moist sponge vs pressure washer when considering the detoxifying effect of indoors vs fresh air.
Any time spent outside, almost anywhere (preferably not alongside the M5), is good for our health. However, the further away you can get from pollutants, such as cars, the better. Challenging yourself by walking up hills or walking faster than usual may feel like it’s leaving us short of breath but in actual fact, we are taking in more oxygen to fuel us. Therefore we are activating and cleaning our lungs as well as taking care of our physical fitness.
It sounds like something from fairy folklore but it’s true - we are able to absorb nutrients from the soil through our skin. Gardeners are most likely to experience the benefits of this but anybody exposed to Mycobacterium Vaccae, which is found in soil, is likely to experience a surge in positivity since the bacteria triggers serotonin release.
Therefore, spending time with your hands deep in the dirt could be good for your mental health and help to alleviate depression (always consult a doctor if you are having any symptoms of depression). If you’re not lucky enough to have outdoor space, then there are plenty of community groups to join. Many are even actively helping to rewild the world by planting wildflowers to support bee and butterfly populations. You could do some good in the world and trigger serotonin release at the same time. Giving you plenty of reasons to smile.
There are so many wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature that it’s difficult to explain all the possible reasons for each. However, in terms of the benefits nature has on our mental health, it’s plausible to group these together into one word - perspective. Perspective is what time in nature gives us more than anything else.
It’s difficult to be strung up over the small stuff when you’re at the top of a hill looking out at fields of green and blue skies. Actually, even in grey skies and windy weather, being in the great outdoors reminds us of what’s really important. It’s undoubtedly a big world and sometimes our perception of things, especially that which drags us down, is a result of being metaphorically too close to see the big picture.
A regular reminder of the majesty of the grand design, regardless of who or what you believe led it to come into fruition, is essential to our wellbeing. Especially in the modern world where we are constantly encouraged to ‘keep up with the pace’ and accumulate more and more in terms of wealth and possessions, sometimes it’s easier to feel grounded in the great outdoors.
We're such an advocate for physical fitness and the impact it can also have upon our mental health. Understanding that we’re all different, we're not prescribing twice-daily 2k runs for everyone. Just increasing our daily exercise a little can have an enormous effect on our wellbeing.
You probably know that exercise releases endorphins, which are a wonderful all-natural high. However, did you know that sunshine increases serotonin levels? Serotonin is often known as the happy hormone and it blends very well with endorphins. So, exercising outdoors can have even more benefits.
There are some great classes taking place outside and team sports obviously. However, to harness the wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature all that is really needed is a good old-fashioned walk. A mid-day stretch of the legs, especially if you work at a desk. Or even just walking in the park to start your day.
One Last Thing…
When you do venture out to spend time in nature, do yourself a favour - don’t be too sensible. One of the best parts of being outside is it tends to make us more creative and more inclined to play. Play is something that adults are generally not great at, but we should all be doing more often.
Run down that hill, skip through that meadow, squelch through the mud and have a go and see if you can still cartwheel.
We believe in taking life seriously. Our feeling is we should think deeply about what we wish to do with our lives, how we treat one another and how we treat ourselves. We think we should take happiness seriously and get really serious about having fun. There are many wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature, but we already knew that didn’t we? We knew that when we were children. And you probably didn’t need the statistics and facts we've provided you with to know that we should be spending time outdoors every day. So, really it’s about making it a priority and taking care of yourself. Still, if it’s easier to prioritise the needs of others, you could always get a dog to ensure you get the daily walk outside.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” - Henry David Thoreau