We are more interested in health than ever before, and we’re willing to pay a good buck for it too. A recent survey found that 88 percent of us are happy to pay more for healthier foods, and the health food market is unsurprisingly set to boom in 2017. We want our lives to be long, our minds to be sharp and our bodies to be healthy and we will go the extra mile to get there.
But what if we’ve drifted too far away from nature? In our efforts to improve well-being, by eating the best superfoods or trying the latest spin class, what if all we needed was a quick stroll in the woods?
1. Bye, Stress
It’s true that many of us don’t realize how highly strung we’ve become until we take a step back from it all, let go of the pen welded to our fingers, and tell our shoulders to come back down from our ears.
One study found that people who spent time in rural areas had much lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol and were generally in a better mood than urban dwellers. In Japan, this has really caught on and forest bathing is now an official stress management activity. Research into the effects of these au naturel excursions has found a significant decrease in anger, anxiety, and depression, as well as better immune function.
Fear not if you just can’t find the time to go for a swim in the forest, a decent view from an office window will suffice.
2. Mega Memory
Constantly forgetting what you were just about to…? Go for a walk. A study by The University of Michigan found that individuals showed a 20 percent short-term memory improvement following a walk in nature but, again, no improvement for city strollers – sorry folks.
3. The Secret to Long Life
A Dutch study, using 250,782 people, found a positive association between the amount of green space in a town and the health of its residents. A study of women also found a 12 percent lower mortality rate in residents surrounded by more luscious greenery. Why? More encouragement to exercise, lower levels of stress, and better air quality. It’s no secret too, that life feels more purposeful when you stand beside a five-hundred-year-old tree than when you’re getting doused by perspiring commuters between subway stops.
4. Better Focus
We all spend more time staring at the bluish glare of our laptop screens than we do appreciating a good sunrise. Spending time in nature is great for concentration, mood, and offers a general mental boost. Just 20 minutes in the park can improve concentration in children with ADHD. Not to mention that distinct feeling of awe – you know when you’re struggling to work out how a lake can appear so impossibly silver and still – that is the feeling of life settling into some kind of perspective. No really, researchers at Stanford University associated feelings of awe with an expanded sense of time, better sense of well-being and more altruistic thinking.
We have spent more than 99.99 percent of our evolutionary history in nature and when you consider many of our physiological responses, such as stress, we are still designed for nature, not the artificial and technologically dominant world we live in. Stephen Kaplan, behind the memory study mentioned above, puts this aptly: “The way I think of it is that our ancestors evolved in a nature-filled environment. [Such places] should feel more comfortable, more relaxed, more like home. It’s not a big leap between that and being more competent, less distracted.”
Americans spend more than $200 billion a year treating mental health conditions alone. While spending time in nature is unlikely to be a replacement for such treatment, its curative effects have spoken. Time to stop reading this article, move away from your screen and go outside for a scientifically-endorsed jaunt among the trees!