My father had a lot of faults, but one thing he did do was get me out into nature on a regular basis. I was backpacking at age 2 (riding along in a pack of course), and we would go camping and backpacking on a regular basis. When I went off to a boarding school at age 15, we took six weeks driving from California to Colorado, stopping at numerous national parks and other wilderness areas. We spent a week backpacking in Glacier National Park, a number of days in Yellowstone National Park, and another week in the Wind River range in Wyoming, to name a few of the places I recall. It wasn’t painless to travel with him, but I deeply appreciate that we did those trips that I still remember fondly. Even the time that we climbed Fremont Peak in the Wind River Range and he decided that he saw a better route (you know that never ends well). Instead, I am not actually sure we made the peak, but I recall being so dehydrated that I was licking moisture from the rocks late in the day.
This early start in nature led me to numerous back country trips throughout my high school and college years as both leader and participant. Backpacking, mountain climbing, back country skiing, and canoeing became quite commonplace. It was a little more difficult during college in Indiana, but I found a way, and I surrounded myself with people who did the same things.
With this background, I know that nature is powerful for me on a personal level. I have veered from long back country trips as an adult, but when I get back to the woods with a pack on my back, I remember that I need to do more of it. It does something to me that is inexplicably wonderful.
It turns out that it isn’t just good for me. Studies have shown that getting outside in nature, even for a short time, has measurable health benefits.
A study in Japan tested people after a leisurely forest walk and after a walk in an urban setting. They found that compared to the urban walkers, the forest group had an average 12% reduction in cortisol levels (a stress hormone), a 7% reduction in sympathetic nerve activity (another stress marker), a 1.4% drop in blood pressure, a 6% drop in heart rate, and subjective reports of increased mood and lower anxiety. The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Another study discussed in this same book found that 30 to 40 minutes walking in nature appeared sufficient to bring about physiological mood changes. They recommended at least 5 hours per month spent in nature. (Read this article for a description of The Nature Fix and some of its other takeaways).
Even without time to get to the woods, green spaces have been found to have a positive effect on people’s perceived perception of health. I suspect this is heightened by spending more time in the green spaces surrounding you, if available.
How often are you getting outside? We all have different access, but can make an effort to spend more time outdoors and in nature. Perhaps that’s a walk in a park at lunch, or hiking on the weekends. Maybe it’s standing in a garden in your community or at home.
Know that getting outside more has great benefits to your health. Feel you don’t have enough time? You may find that the time spent outside boosts productivity making it worth your time, or it may calm you making you a better person to be around.
As a group of researchers put it after spending time together in nature and studying its effects: “After days of wandering in [nature], resting the executive branch and watching the clouds drift across an endless sky, good shit happens to your brain.” The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.