Last weekend we pitched our tent in the middle of the abundantly green Belgian Ardennes. To be honest, we were pretty tired from the work week before and my tense shoulders were giving me a nasty headache. Whether it was down to the peace and quiet or the environment, I don’t know, but after a few hours of relaxing below the trees on our camp site and listening to the sounds of the river, I already started feeling much better.
“I can actually feel my shoulders relax” or “this hás to be healthy” are some of the things we keep telling each other when we’re out walking through yet another stretch of random forest. Surprised, because we can sometimes feel like just staying on the couch and popping on some random Netflix show. Sounds familiar, right? And yet, every time we do go outside, I notice we both get so much energy from even a short walk. So, is being outside actually so healthy? Or do we get our good feeling for another reason?
Let’s talk facts
To get straight to the point: yes, it really is that healthy. Research after research shows that people who spend a lot of time in nature profit from all kinds of positive effects. Here’s a few interesting finds:
- Being in nature slows physical and psychological stress and therefore has tons of indirect effects. Being more able to put things into perspective or to think creatively are just two of the many examples. Even the kind of green environment you’re in matters, or the ‘level of nature’ so to say. The greener, the better!1
- The positive effects of nature are not limited to mental health, but also show for your physical health. Oxygen levels are often higher in nature (which makes sense) and the air is cleaner. Research shows this to be good for your blood pressure and heart rhythm!2
- Even just being outside is good for your sleep rhythm. By spending a lot of time out in natural daylight, your body produces more melatonin; the sleep hormone that makes you feel sleepy when the night falls. Having more of it makes falling asleep a lot easier. But you’re likely to produce a bit less if you’ve spent all day inside the office, for example.
So, does this mean you have to cancel your rent or sell your beautiful place in the city center right away? Absolutely not! And of course I can’t claim there to be a direct link between my headache disappearing last weekend and the fact we were sitting below a green tree. But, knowing that nature does really have a positive effect on physical and mental health, may inspire you to opt for a lap around the park instead of through the city center (consider the ‘level of nature’). Or it might inspire you to spend a lovely weekend out in nature! It did for us, at least!
Have you noticed how nature calms you before?
1Ewert, A., & Chang, Y. (2018). Levels of nature and stress response. Behavioral Sciences, 8(5), 49.
2Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental research, 166, 628-637.