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5 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

When we get sick we usually lock ourselves into our bedrooms, or worse: into the sterility of a hospital room. But science has proven that to stay healthy, you might want to try the forest before you head to your bedroom.

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In the recesses of our minds we probably all know that spending time in nature is good for us. There’s just something about it that makes us feel good, right?! But now science has gone and backed this up with studies showing that ecotherapy and forest bathing have proven effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. The results are, by all means, pretty epic.

So if you ever wondered about whether you should join the scouts, start hiking, or get kayaking, the answer is: yes. Go outside.

What the H*ck is Ecotherapy and Forest Bathing?

Ecotherapy is a form of therapy where you spend time in nature to heal, or simply to stay healthy.

Forest bathing (a.k.a. Shinrin-yoku) is a Japanese concept of spending time, not actually bathing in a forest, but rather just being immersed in a forest. In other words: going for hikes, hanging out by the campfire, meditating, or just simply being in the forest.

Both these practices have been proven to help improve overall health and wellbeing. So city lovers, you might need a new NewYears promise for 2019: spending time in nature.

Happy Eyes

Good vision is important for most of us. As cool as glasses are, it’s even cooler to have happy eyes.

Studies have now found that spending time in the great outdoors seems to help prevent nearsightedness. Possibly because the lens and the retina develop the right distance between each other when exposed to natural light outdoors. This is particularly important for children whose eyes are still developing. The magic time needed outdoors daily? About two hours minimum. So come rain or shine, make sure to get your kiddos outside! (1)

Decreased Symptoms of ADD and ADHD

Spending time in green spaces (not just outdoors, but in actual green spaces, such as parks, forests and gardens) appear to lessen the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Somehow this doesn’t seem very surprising, does it? After all, you burn a lot of energy outdoors and since when did green spaces not have a calming effect? Ever tried just stepping outside and taking some deep breaths? (2)

A Better Immune System and Improved Health

According to Japanese research that involved 280 different participants across Japan: “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” Cortisol is a stress hormone often associated with inflammation. High blood pressure is also related to stress in many instances (though far from all), as is sympathetic nerve activity, while parasympathetic nerve activity is linked to a lower heart rate. This shows that spending time in the forest can have a positive effect on mental health (stress) as well as physical health (physical stress and inflammation). (3)

Better Protection Against Infection and Cancer

Another cool side effect of forest bathing appears to be the increase of natural killer cells (those are needed to prevent cancer and infection). One study found that spending three days in the forest increases your natural killer cell count by about 50%. The elevated count then lasts for about a month. This is good news for those who live in the city and don’t have time to hang about the forest every day. Apparently wood essential oils (phytoncides) alone have an effect on the increase of natural killer cells. It seems sometimes you really can bottle the experience and take it home! (4) (5) (6) (7)

Increased Happiness

If you are feeling depressed, try going for a jog in nature, or play a game of football in a clearing in the woods. Just spending time in nature appears to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing, but exercising in nature can help reduce anger and sadness as well. (9) (10) (11)

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There Is No Excuse Not To Go Outside

Spending time in nature, particular in greenery, appears to have an incredibly positive effect both on mental and physical health. If you live in Antartica, you might want to consider getting a conservatory and filling it with green plants and a very warm fireplace for snowy days. For everyone in slightly warmer climates, there really is no excuse not to go outside. At least not if you want to be healthy.

1) https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/opinion/21wang.html

2) http://lhhl.illinois.edu/media/2005.07_kanter.htm

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

4) https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/135/12/2910S/4669927

5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17903349

6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568839

7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16873099?dopt=Abstract

8) https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/new-research-shows-benefits-of-ecotherapy-for-mental-health-and-wellbeing/#.W1nmzi2B2rc

9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16916314

10) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494409000838

11) https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/the-nature-cure/403210/ 

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