Being outside in nature is something that everybody should make time for, especially as we are becoming such a digitally driven society.
It’s interesting because it’s not until you spend time outdoors (whether it’s a walk by a river, a day in the countryside or a woodland hike), that you feel the incredible effects of the great outdoors. It can be very easy to become accustomed to the indoor world; you spend your days in the city, time in the office and then hurry home to collapse in the comfort of your home. But, if you’re someone like me who needs time outside to remain sane, then you’ll already be sat here thinking ‘That’s right girl, preach IT!’. For those who are sceptical, then read on…
Whilst I am a personal advocate for being in nature, this is not just my opinion. Researchers and scientists have already produced a mass of evidence that indicates that nature is good for us, and has both long and short-term mental and physical health benefits.
Nature puts things into perspective. There is no social influence when outdoors. It is just you and nature, so you are free to wander life in its purest form. It has wonderful calming effects and reminds you that chaos and harmony are mutually exclusive to living life. The natural world shows us that storms can wreak havoc, but simultaneously hundreds of animals and plants live together in one small habitat. This is the way the ecosystem works – each species contributes to a greater balance as they coexist. When I think about it like this, I can’t help but think humans could do with taking note.
The benefits of nature have fascinated scientists for many years, and hundreds of studies have been done which prove its healing properties. One study found that just looking at natural scenery activates parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness. In a study at South Korea’s Chonnam National University, FMRI scans showed that when subjects saw images of mountains, forests, and other landscapes, they experienced heightened activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (which is linked to positive outlook and emotional stability) and the basal ganglia (an area that’s been tied to the recollection of happy memories).
A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a small group of subjects who strolled through nature for just an hour and a half reported a reduction in negative thoughts. How amazing is that?! Just finding an hour and a half in your day or week to be outdoors can have a remarkable and positive effect on your mindset, meaning unhealthy habits such as drinking and shopping to make yourself feel better can be a think of the past.
Most significantly, nature is a HUGE stress buster. During my degree, I was always finding ways to get out of the city and library. I went on so many day adventures and walks in Leigh Woods, because it was literally the only way for me to de-stress (as well as the gym!). So, feeling stressed and tense? Head for the trees! Researchers have spent many years looking into the effects forests have on humans. One study found a decrease in both heart rate and levels of cortisol in subjects in the forest when compared to those in the city. ‘Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy’ they concluded.
This makes me particularly happy because forests are my favourite places in the entire world. They are the one place where I feel relaxed and calm. The sound and smells of the forest are the most wonderful thing, and wherever I live, I will always make sure woods are nearby!
So, how do we find the time to bask in nature’s glory when our lives are already so busy? Well, if you live in the city, it can be as simple as taking a walk in the sun on your lunch break (or if it’s autumnal like now, find an area with some beautiful orange and red trees), going for a jog around the park before work, or taking a mini trip to the woods on the weekend.
If you’re looking for a proper escape, I would recommend camping. It’s the best way to really get yourself away from technology and emerge yourself into the outdoors. Although it’s not your comfy hotel experience, you will feel really good after doing it. Camping is such a fun thing to do, and it’s rarely uneventful. In the last few years, I have camped on top of a waterfall, with nothing but a sleeping bag and a camp fire; I have wild camped in the Spanish countryside, sleeping in a hammock under the stars; and I have camped in Ireland in the Wicklow Mountains, during a massive storm that made it quite an eventful night. I didn’t get much sleep, but I did return to England with lower stress levels, feeling good afer a weekend of hiking in the mountains and feeling more positive about myself.
Canoeing is also another really fun outdoorsy activity and not too expensive. Bring along a picnic and some music and I promise that you will have the best day ever.
To finish off, I want to highlight how beneficial the outdoors is for mental health problems, especially in wake of the mental health awareness that has been taking place on social media. As someone who has experienced both depression and anxiety, I found that not only did being in nature improve my stress levels and made me feel really good, it also helped relieve my anxiety and depression. This was especially the case when combined with exercise, so often I would go for a run through the woods behind my house, or round some of the big parks in Bristol. Scientists have found that walks in the forest specifically are associated with decreased levels of anxiety and heavy feelings, and a study found that outdoor walks could be ‘useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments’ for the major depressive disorder.
‘Every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood’, found an analysis of 10 earlier studies about so-called ‘green exercise’. The presence of water made the positive effects even stronger, so if you have a river nearby, then head down!
Remember, it is important to take care of both your mind and your body, and you can do both by stepping outside your door!
Holly Genevieve is a blogger and writer. She maintains a lifestyle blog, Genevieve Rose, which can be found here: https://genevieverosesite.wordpress.com/contact/genevieve-rose-about/