“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.”—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Most of us can relate to an overall better sense of well-being after spending some time in nature. Thankfully, now, modern science is backing up what we may have already had a general, intuitive understanding of. Below are ten scientifically-based reasons you should probably make spending time in nature a part of your regular routine.
1) INCREASES HAPPINESS
Zelenski and Nisbet conducted two studies to determine the link between nature and happiness. One of the primary goals of the study was “to determine whether the association between nature relatedness and happiness is due to a general sense of connectedness or a more specific link with nature.” Researchers wanted to know if nature stood out from other things that made us feel connected to life and gave us a sense of happiness. They found that the relationship between nature and happiness was highly significant.
The results of this research suggests that “nature relatedness has a distinct happiness benefit beyond the more generalized benefit of feeling connected to family, friends, and home.” Our connection to nature is also correlated with most measures of human well-being, indicating it may play an extremely important role in maintaining positive mental health.
To further understand the findings of the first study, Zelenski and Nisbet conducted a second study. This time they wanted to see if nature relatedness could actually predict happiness. They found that:
- Our emotional connectedness to the natural world is distinct from other psychological connections in our lives.
- Nature relatedness often predicts happiness regardless of other psychological factors.
- Psychological connections with nature have the capacity to facilitate sustainable attitudes, and may be an important tool in preserving our environment.
2) INCREASES CREATIVITY
Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that walking increases creative production. And while walking anywhere — whether through the woods or in a mall — is beneficial in that it prompts creativity, researchers found that the actual act of spending time outside also influences the ability to think in a creative manner.
3) MAKES EXERCISE EASIER
Research conducted at the University of Essex showed that the color green, such as that found on trees, grass and other plants in nature, makes exercise feel easier. This study tested cyclists pedaling in front of green, gray and red images. Those exercising in front of the green showed less mood disturbances and reported that they felt lower exertion during their cycling. Additionally, other research indicates that those who exercise outside are more eager to return for a future workout than those typically exercise at the gym.
4) LOWERS STRESS
Research shows that those who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates and higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress), and reported better moods and less anxiety, than those who walked in urban settings. The researchers concluded that there’s something about being in nature that had a beneficial effect on stress reduction, above and beyond what exercise alone might have produced.
5) INCREASES VITAMIN D INTAKE
According to Dr. Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D., Vitamin D can be a tricky nutrient to get enough of strictly from foods, because so few naturally carry it, so most of us soak up between 80 to 90 percent of our sunshine vitamin from those golden rays.
Unfortunately, your skin can only drink in the D from unprotected exposure. This is why Holick suggests what he calls “sensible sun exposure.” That means only going out in the sun for about one third to one half of the amount of time it would take your skin to mildly burn, or roughly 10 to 15 minutes for many.
6) INCREASES KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY
In 2014, Juyoung Lee, GGSC director Dacher Keltner, and other researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, studied the potential impact of nature on the willingness to be generous, trusting, and helpful toward others, while considering what factors might influence that relationship.
Across four studies, they tested the hypothesis that exposure to more beautiful nature, relative to less beautiful nature, increases pro-social behavior. The first study indicated that participants prone to perceiving natural beauty reported greater pro-social tendencies, as measured by agreeableness, perspective taking, and empathy.
In Studies two and three, exposure to more beautiful images of nature (versus less beautiful images of nature) led participants to be more generous and trusting. In Study four, exposure to more beautiful (versus less beautiful) plants in the laboratory room led participants to exhibit increased helping behavior.
7) FEELING MORE ALIVE
An article from the Journal of Environmental Psychology reports on five studies that investigated the vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Vitality is defined as having physical and mental energy. When vital, people experience a sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy available to the self. As you would imagine, subjective vitality has been associated with behavioral and health outcomes. Results from these studies show us that being outdoors is, in fact, associated with greater vitality.
8) STRONGER SENSE OF CONNECTION
F.E. Kuo, W.C. Sullivan & Coley conducted a field study at the Human Environmental Research Lab. They found that time spent in nature connects us to each other and the larger world. Another study at the University of Illinois revealed that residents of Chicago public housing who had trees and greenery around their building reported of having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees.
10) IMPROVES MEMORY
Marc G. Berman and his colleagues at the University of Michigan tested the effect of natural scenery on cognitive function & memory. The results showed that participants’ short term memory increased by almost 20% after wandering amongst trees regularly.
“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson