John Muir, a distinguished naturalist and environmental philosopher of the early 20th century, once wrote,
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
The mountains are calling and I must go.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
His sentiments, as it turns out, extend farther than just the allegorical level. These days, science has found that nature has much more to offer us than just scenery. Take a look at these benefits to tree hugging and nature loving…
1.Watching the Sun Set/Rise Resets Your Biological Clock- If you’ve recently pulled an all-nighter and need to untrain yourself from your nocturnal ways, take an overnight camping trip! Recent camping studies have found that natural light can help reset and increase the body’s release of melatonin, your body’s natural hormonal sleep aid (Wright et al. 2013). Out of whack from travel? A Japanese study from 1996 found that exercise outdoors even helps airline crew members readjust their circadian rhythms and alleviates jet lag symptoms.
2. Nature Rejuvenates Sensory Mechanisms Through Aromatic Phytochemicals- Take yourself to a free aromatherapy appointment, in the forest! Essential oils found in many plants are nature’s hidden medicine. Because smell is our most prominent sensory mechanism, utilizing the terpenes and aromatics in essential oils yields a variety of benefits. Sniffing spruce needles is said to dispel mental and physical fatigue, while pine needles purify. Look for eucalyptus or spearmint leaves to open airways and sinuses.
3. Outdoor Activity Promotes Organic Body Movements and Exercise- Would you rather be on a hamster wheel at the gym or running through the woods like Pocahontas? Well, it turns out, your body burns about 10% more calories weaving in and out of trees (health.com). As for me, I’d rather be dodging branches than dropping my iPhone on the treadmill (Oh the embarrassment!). Trail running requires more advanced motor-mechanics to adjust to surface imperfections, and balance when obstacles present themselves along the trail. It is also argued that natural and variable surfaces are kinder to joints (runnersworld.com).
4. Being Outdoors Increases Creativity and Productivity- If you are stuck with writer’s block, a great place to start is amongst the trees. A group of inexperienced hikers spent four days in nature, and against a control group, were found to perform significantly better on a creative, problem solving task (Atchley et al. 2012, Berman et al. 2008).
5. Green Exercise Promotes Self Esteem and Environmental Consciousness- It turns out that a trail run can pay off more than just going to the gym. A study in 2005 compared the effects of exercise in both rural and urban settings, and the effect of unpleasant and pleasant scenes in each setting. They found that performing exercise when viewing pleasant rural scenes had a higher positive effect on self esteem than viewing pleasant urban scenes. Interestingly, self esteem was more negatively affected by an unpleasant rural scene than by an unpleasant urban scene, suggesting that there is a need for us to preserve the health of our natural environment (Pretty et al.).
6. Nature Decreases Stress- There is something programmed within us to enjoy sunset beaches and scenic foliage, since the dawn of our evolutionary existence. Perhaps due to an innate sense of home in the natural environment, workers’ stress levels have shown to decrease when observing forested areas (Shin 2006). If you are in the midst of a break-up, work drama, or family stress, it may be best to take the time to reconnect with your former home, the great outdoors!
7. Sunlight: A Natural Source of Vitamin D – Being outside in those golden rays (in healthy amounts of course) initiates our skin’s synthesis of vitamin D3 sulfate. An in-depth take on the benefits of sunlight vitamin D opposed to bottled vitamin D was posted on a blog citing a senior researcher at MIT, mommypotamus.com. In essence, vitamin D3 sulfate from the sun is hydrophilic and more readily absorbed into the bloodstream than it’s unsulfated pill form.
8. Get Outside and Give Your Immune System a Boost- Natural Killer Cells (NK cells), known to provide innate immunity, respond to tumor formation, signal viral activity, and cause apoptosis of “bad” cells that other immune responses cannot respond to, get a kick out of romping through the woods. Studies have shown that both trips to the outdoors and the Japanese forest-bathing technique, Shinrinyoku, increase NK activity and in turn, improve overall immune function (Li 2010, Li et al. 2008 ).
9. Compounds Found in Nature Contains Possible Anticancer Properties- Anticancer proteins have been shown to increase in female subjects’ bloodstreams when visiting forests (Li et al. 2008). More work is said to be done on this topic, but this preliminary research shows prospect to help us better understand the healing properties of nature and will help direct holistic oncological research down the line.
10. Al Fresco Activities Reduce Inflammation- Research has shown that the body heals at a cellular level in response to outdoor adventures. In a group of male students taking a short wooded walk and Shinrinyoku, it was found that individuals experienced reduced inflammatory and oxidative stress than those spending the same time in a city (Mao et al. 2012). In elderly individuals, it was also found that inflammation decreased when performing a similar adventure into the forest (Mao et al. 2012).
11. Find Some Green to Live Longer- Research into urban design has shown that young and old all benefit from living closer to green areas (Maas et al. 2006). Another study has found that Shinrinyoku can also increase vigor and provide ample other health benefits to reduce the risk of early death. (Qing Li 2010, Gen Xiang et al. 2012).
12. Give Your Lungs a Break and Breathe in the Trees City-life pollution has been shown to correlate to adverse effects on lung development in children (Gauderman et al 2004). Spending time outdoors, where photosynthesis from plant-life produces highly oxygenated air, can be a soothing remedy for respiratory irritations. Hike at an altitude to strengthen and increase lung-capacity (Levine & Stray-Gundersen 1997).
13.Outdoor Activity Increases Overall Cognitive Ability – When you feel burnt out from the gridlock, spend time focusing on babbling brooks and the calming calls of songbirds. It turns out that compared to city-life, nature provides more gentle stimuli, and that can help us better restore cognitive ability and brain function (Berman et al. 2008).
14. Absorbing Yourself Into Nature Alleviates Disorders like Anxiety and Depression-In patients suffering from Major Depression Disorder, a study found that after a nature walk, individuals showed an increase in mood and short-term memory (Berman et al. 2013). Another study found that the “greener” the exercise environment, the greater the reduction in anxiety levels for those affected by moderate anxiety (Mackay & Neill 2008).