Are you still able to make it outside during these uncertain times? If you are, how much of that outdoor time do you spend in nature? A new study has found that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits, including reducing the risk of certain diseases. During the pandemic, I have been avoiding public transport as well as ridesharing, so my options to enjoy nature are limited to how far I can travel on foot or by bike. Even limited exposure to ‘green space’ (open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation) as well as urban greenspaces, have its benefits, including, perhaps, relieving some of the stress you may be feeling during the pandemic.
According to a UK study, people who spent at least 2 hours a week in nature saw a boost in their mental and physical health, compared to people who didn’t spend any time in nature. That’s just over 15 minutes a day, or, perhaps, a 40-minute walk in green space three times a week. For that small commitment the great outdoors, you can enjoy the following health benefits:
Something wonderful happens when you click off your smart phone and look at the beauty of nature around you – creativity. Stopping to smell the roses restores your attention, which has been fatigued by overuse of technology. In a 2012 study, hikers on a backpacking trip solved 47 percent more creative puzzles than those who were not hiking. Of course, other factors may be at play, yet another study found that nature’s ‘attention restoration’ effect is what accounted for improved scores on cognitive tests for the study participants.
Just 20 minutes a day in nature can boost your vitality levels. Essentially, this means that fresh air gives you energy and makes you feel more alive!
When it comes to nature’s pacifying side effects, research concurs that 20 minutes is the magic number when it comes to reaping the health benefits. In a study that measured the cortisol levels of participants, researchers found that those who spent 20 to 30 minutes in nature experienced the biggest drop in the stress hormone cortisol. This benefit, however, was only significant when study participants refrained from indulging in distractions like social media, conversations, and even reading. While virtual isolation may be alien to some, switching off (even for just a little) may be the key serious health benefits.
Being outdoors has a number of other benefits including increased physical activity (granted you don’t just drive up to a tree and take a nap under it), fosters a kinder disposition, and can bolster happiness.
Luckily, here in Massachusetts we remain unrestricted in our movement in the outdoors. However, even though we can (and perhaps should) spend more time in nature during the pandemic, we must, of course, take all necessary precautions including social distancing and covering our faces in public.
Wishing you greener days.