In an age where anyone can pull out a phone to connect with anyone or anything, it’s no wonder the average American spends almost eight hours a day consuming digital media. And when we spend more time on our devices than we do sleeping, we aren’t connecting with the world around us. That means you may be missing out on some valuable health benefits that come from simply being outside.
That’s right: all those times your parents kicked you out of the house to go play outside were for your health! The great outdoors offers a multitude of benefits for your well-being and most don’t cost a penny.
So join us as we take a deep dive into the benefits of connecting with nature and how to add a little more green living into your day. (Maybe start by reading this article outside!)
What are the health benefits of connecting with nature?
Being near green and blue spaces, no matter the size and scope, has a direct line to the state of our well-being. From reductions in stress to sharpening our memory, nature provides it all.
As Ming Kuo, who runs the Landscape and Human Health Lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, explains regarding the restorative powers of nature: "Our research suggests that it's not a luxury. It’s actually what you need to function well. ... It's kind of like a multivitamin."
Let’s look into some of the benefits of such a multivitamin, shall we?
As the American Psychology Association so perfectly summarizes, “Spending time in nature can act as a balm for our busy brains.” And when our minds are calm, our focus is sharper and our prolonged memory and recall are improved. This can have a cascading effect on everyday functions such as your daily Wordle or remembering someone’s name.
It’s hard to be in a bad mood when it’s a gorgeous day, isn’t it? That happy feeling is directly tied to nature itself. And when we tap into that feeling by spending time in nature, mental health risks, such as anxiety and depression, are lowered. And taking the time to notice the little details, like the wind in the leaves or the sun on your skin, is a great way to practice mindfulness.
Outdoor activities and hobbies are a double-dose of wellness: not only are you reaping the health benefits of nature, but you are increasing your fitness levels, too. Your morning walk, working in the garden or chasing your pet in the yard: it all counts! Plus, studies have shown spending time in nature can even help us get a better night’s sleep!
What’s the story behind our connection with nature?
Humans and nature seem to be a natural fit for one another. (Pun semi-intended.) But why is that?
There are a few theories floating around. Here’s the scoop on three popular ones from a review published in the International Journal of Well-being:
- The “biophilia hypothesis” claims that since our ancestors evolved in wild settings and relied on the environment for survival, we have an innate drive to connect with nature.
- Spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels, known by researchers as the “stress reduction hypothesis”
- Finally, a hypothesis called the “attention restoration theory” states that nature replenishes one’s cognitive resources, restoring the ability to concentrate and pay attention.
Researchers suggest all of these are correct in their own right. Numerous studies have yielded a positive connection between humans and nature, from taking microbreaks to look outside to simply hearing the sounds of the outdoors.
In other words, connecting with nature does nothing but good things for the mind and body.
How to connect with nature, no matter where you are
Whether you live in a rural farmhouse or the heart of a bustling metro, anyone can surround themselves with nature. Here are some easy ways to get started:
- Pick up an outdoor hobby like walking or gardening.
- Grow your own food or bouquets, whether on your porch or in a backyard.
- Add some houseplants to your home.
- Get out in the sun for some free Vitamin D.
- Listen to ambient nature noises when you are relaxing at home.
- Head to the local park, zoo or aquarium.
- Get a birdfeeder or plant some pollinators.
- Find inspiration by watching a documentary or following nature accounts on social media.
- Start a nature journal or document your findings outside with photos.
The bottom line: You don’t have to do much to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. So, find what works best for you and your lifestyle and get out there!
Keep reading: 4 Simple Things to Instantly Boost Your Mood