Sitting next to a quiet, calm lake away from the noise and hustle of the urban and suburban environment. Lying under the trees and feeling a nice breeze from the wind with no electronics to distract. The feelings of accomplishment from finishing a hearty and sweaty hike up a mountain.
Experiencing nature isn’t just a good way to enjoy the summer and take a break from the responsibilities of work and the grind of daily life; spending time outdoors may also offer up a bevy of health benefits and help recharge the mind, body and spirit.
The Sound of Silence
Many people often spend their workdays indoors, even more so during the coronavirus pandemic if they are working from home. And they spend “very little time in quiet and peace,” says Adam Marion, a licensed clinical social worker based in Buford, Ga. and vice president of outpatient services at the Pinnacle Treatment Centers. “This can be anything from having the TV or radio on in the background to the constant of city noises.”
But some evidence from psychologists and health researchers has shown that it is important to make time to get outdoors and enjoy the natural world, as well. It may improve blood pressure, boost mental health, decrease cancer risk, improve memory, fight depression, boost mood and concentration, reduce stress hormones, calm the nervous system, improve the immune system and, of course, improve physical fitness.
Marion adds that when entering the open lands of nature, people may be unnerved by the quiet until they begin to realize that it isn’t actually quiet, and they begin to hear the natural sounds and rhythms of nature.
“These sounds can have a powerful effect on our mind and spirit in helping us to relax, calm down and begin to take in the beauty of nature around us,” he says. “Many people find it difficult to look inside and find a peace, especially in these times, but finding that peace outside of ourselves is easily done in nature.”
When people hear, see or even smell things from nature, it primes the body to unwind and sparks feelings of ease and positivity, says Lindsay Goldberg, a health and wellness coach based in Albany, N.Y. and a curriculum developer with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“On a physiological level, this reduces cortisol and our ‘fight or flight’ response, activating our parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ response, which is so critical to break up the chronic state of stress that so many of us live in,” she says.
Goldberg adds that time spent in nature inspires time spent in enjoyable physical activity, such as biking, walking, hiking or kayaking.
“Then there are direct health benefits of the elements of nature themselves,” she says. “Sunlight gives us the vitamin D that so many of us are deficient in; and this deficiency is linked with mood disturbances, anxiety and depression. Breathing in fresh air circulates oxygen through the body and brain, which boosts concentration and supports us cognitively. The salty ocean air supports respiratory health.”
When it comes to best places to soak up nature, everybody is different. Some people like the mountains. Others prefer the ocean. The bottom line is to pick places that are personally pleasing, Goldberg says.
“The goal is to go where you gravitate towards to maximize your relaxation and enjoyment. For some people, that looks like taking in a beach sunset, while for others, it’s a mountaintop, a lush forest or the tranquility of being out on open water,” she says.
Also, while a weekend getaway in the woods can be deeply rejuvenating, people don’t have to go off the grid and necessarily take time off to reap nature’s plentiful benefits.
“A walk through a beautiful garden, a picnic under a willow tree or morning jog along a local river or beach can all provide the benefits of being in nature without having to go far,” Goldberg says. “Sometimes it’s about what’s most practical, and when you have more time to spare, consider what’s most pleasurable.”