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LiVe Well

How nature can be a natural healer for you

Learn about the health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors.

By Miriam Del Carmen Padilla MD

Mar 1, 2023

Mountains and lake in the fall with yellow leaves

How nature can be a healer for you

A study of close to 20,000 people published in the medical journal “Scientific Results” showed that spending at least 2 hours in nature each week can significantly boost health and well-being.

This can be done all at once or be split up throughout the week into smaller time slots.

Nature can influence our health and wellbeing in many ways, but it's estimated that Americans, on average, spend 93% of their time indoors.

Below are some wonderful health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors.

  1. Helps you be more active: If you make getting outside a goal, that usually means less time in front of the TV and more time walking and being active. Outside activity doesn’t have to be extreme either. It can include gardening, bird watching, or playing with your dog at the park. Studies show people who exercise outside are more likely to stick to a future routine than those who exercised at the gym.
  2. Reduced stress and anxiety: According to research, it only takes five minutes to experience the relaxing effects of nature. If you live or spend time near green space, then you are less likely to be depressed. Sunlight can often help ease depression, seasonal mood changes, and tiredness.  
  3. Decreased heart disease risk: Your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure will be lowered by spending more time outside. In scientific studies, people who spent more time in the forests had lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, and a lower pulse than people who spent more time indoors or in the city areas.
  4. Improved vitamin D levels: Studies suggest that just 15 to 20 minutes of sunlight exposure each day can help your body create vitamin D. Having enough of this helps keep your bones strong, fight certain infections, and ease chronic pain. 
  5. Improved immune system: Scientific studies have found that by spending time outdoors and around trees, people experienced positive improvements in immune functions. One big reason behind it is the presence of phytoncides which are airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect themselves from forest insects. Scientists have found that these phytoncides also may provide some beneficial protection to humans against certain viruses and infections. 
  6. Boosts creativity and brain function: Spending time in nature improves memory, attention, creativity, and your overall brain function. In a study called ‘the effect of nature walks on cognition and mood in people with major depression’, people experienced a 20% mental boost after spending an hour-long walk in a woodland park.The modern world has lots of things that compete for our attention. This makes our brain feel overwhelmed and less likely to focus. Walking in nature and letting our brain step back from lots of stimuli gives us time to analyze, solve, and create.
  7. Improved vision: Spending a long time behind a screen can affect your eyesight and create more nearsightedness. Spending time outdoors gives your eyes the chance to focus on objects that are farther away. Natural light offers a brighter and richer collection of light wavelengths to see with. One scientific study in 2020 included close to 11,000 kids between the ages of 9 and 11 in Taipei. Researchers found kids who spent more time outside at recess were 22% less likely to develop near-sightedness.
  8. Better sleep:Spending time in nature can help reset your internal clock. In one study, they found people who camped for a weekend fell asleep better and woke up earlier in the morning. After they returned home from camping, they were able to fall asleep sooner and slept for longer. Artificial lights can skew a person’s sleep cycle and being in natural light can help prompt your natural sleep and wake rhythm.

Make a goal for March to spend more time outdoors and try to reach 2 hours of bonding with nature each week to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

This is just one example of how Lifestyle Medicine can improve your life. Learn more from our certified providers.


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