How Walking In Nature Can Develop A Happier, Happier More Productive Life
Every morning, my wife and I go for a walk among the trees in a park adjacent to our home. We always feed regenerated after the walk, and I decided to find out if there’s any scientific evidence that showed if it was more beneficial than a walk on the city’s sidewalks.
Walking in nature helps depression and anxiety
The isolation of being locked up in offices and high-rise condominiums is being linked to psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, and a short attention span at work. New York Times article, How Nature Changes the Brain by Gretchen Reynolds, found that people who live in cities spend more time “brooding”, a term meaning a rumination of thoughts in your mind as to what is wrong with yourself and your life. The study compared those who lived in high-density urban settings to those who had more exposure to greenery and trees.
Walking in nature improves your attention and focus
The Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests that even small mental breaks viewing nature can help aid off psychological issues such as reduced attention span. The study looked at subjects that viewed either concrete or green spaces and found that the ones who viewed the natural environment made fewer errors and were more consistent responding to given tasks. Living and working surrounded by thousands of people and concrete drains your mental resources that are critical for attention. While in opposition, viewing trees, parks, and green spaces on a regular basis, helps create a calmer and active mind.
Viewing nature helps your mind escape everyday concerns
So how does nature help with depression and anxious feelings and give us a greater sense of focus? From a logical perspective, it makes sense that being surrounded by thousands of people, heavy traffic, and concrete would make us feel more anxious, and unhappy. But why would nature have such a large effect on our brains? Nature gives the brain a sense of calmness and peace. The presence of trees, water, and open spaces of greenery transition the mind into feeling an escapement from everyday concerns. It brings simplicity back into life. Nature literally changes the brain.
And not only are the people who have more exposure to natural settings mentally healthier, but they also enjoy a higher quality of physical health as well. A convincing example in the New Yorker, What a Tree is Worth, by Alex Hutchinson, showed that patients given hospital rooms that looked over spaces with trees as opposed to a brick wall, recovered faster. In fact, researchers are discovering that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers out there.
As unlikely as it is to take a twenty-minute detour for a scenic route or to move to a park surrounded area, there are small changes that you can implement into your life today. Change your desktop background to outdoor scenery or hang visual art of the sky and ocean on your wall. Spend more of your breaks outside, plan more trips to the park, or runs along the water. Vote in favor of green roofs, and of course make an effort to get into nature and enjoy it. We tend to complicate the cures for anxiety and depression when in fact being in a calm and natural environment may just be what you need.
Forests make us healthier — research studies
Numerous studies in the U.S. and around the world are exploring the health benefits of spending time outside in nature, green spaces, and, specifically, forests. Recognizing those benefits, in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health.
Exposure to forests boosts our immune system
While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood
Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue. And because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress-reduction benefits of forests are further magnified.
Green spaces in urban areas are just as important as rural forests
About 85% of the US population lives in suburban and urban areas and may not have access to traditional rural forests. That’s O.K. Gardens, parks and street trees make up what is called an urban and community forest. These pockets of greenspace are vitally important because they are the sources of our daily access to trees.
Spending time in nature helps you focus
Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods of time can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
In children, attention fatigue causes an inability to pay attention and control impulses
The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Researchers are investigating the use of natural outdoor environments to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD. Such an approach has the advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive and free of side effects.
Patients recover from surgery faster and better when they have a “green” view
Hospital patients may be stressed from a variety of factors, including pain, fear, and disruption of a normal routine. Research found that patients with “green” views had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer painkillers, and had slightly fewer post-surgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.
A movement to reforest the Earth
Planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on cropland or urban areas. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting program could remove two-thirds of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.
There is currently a worldwide effort by countries to plant trees and reforest areas that have been deforested. China plans to plant forests the size of Ireland. Latin American countries have pledged to restore 20m hectares of degraded forest and African countries more than 100m hectares. India is to plant 13m hectares, and on a single day, last year 1.5 million people planted 66m trees in Madhya Pradesh alone.
Much of Europe is physically greener than it was just a few years ago. England is to plant 50m trees in a new coast-to-coast forest and newly planted saplings now cover tens of thousands of hectares of former farmland in Ireland, Norway, and France. From Costa Rica to Nepal and Peru to Mongolia, tree planting has become a political, economic, and ecological cause, and a universal symbol of restoration, regrowth, and faith in the future. More than 120 countries promised in 2015 to plant and restore large areas of forest as a response to the climate crisis, and the UN has set a target to restore 350m hectares by 2030 – an area bigger than India.
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