How much time do you spend in nature each week? If you are like most Americans, it's probably not very much. According to a 2017 study by Yale University, 56% of the 12,000 people surveyed spent less than five hours a week in nature. It's likely those numbers will continue to decrease, too, with more of our everyday lives happening inside, behind a screen. But there are some very good mental, physical, and emotional reasons to spend time with Mother Nature. Here are five scientifically-proven reasons you need to get outdoors.
Makes You a More Creative Problem Solver
Struggling to find the solution to a complicated problem? Take a walk. A 2012 study found that time spent in nature can increase your creativity when it comes to problem-solving. Researchers measured the problem-solving abilities of a group of hikers after spending four days on a backpacking adventure. The participants weren't allowed the use of any technology during their time in nature.
Researchers later theorized that this could be part of what increased their problem-solving abilities. The combination of "restful introspection" that happens when you are out in nature helped reset the participants' brains. The lack of attention-demanding technology meant they could take that renewed mental energy and use it to create inventive solutions to problems. So if you have a problem you aren't sure how to solve, spend some time outdoors and put your phone away. It might just help you find the creative solution you've been searching for.
Increases Your Ability to Focus on Tasks
Not only is nature great at boosting your problem-solving abilities, but it's also great at helping you focus your attention. A study published by the University of Michigan looked at the participant's ability to focus on tasks. They compared the participants' ability to focus while in an urban environment versus a natural setting. Scientists found that participants were able to focus for longer periods of time and more intently on their tasks in the natural setting.
The theory goes that nature doesn't distract us in the same way an urban environment does. In the urban setting, the surrounding stimuli demand your attention. That could be a car honking its horn, lights changing colors, or someone shouting down the street. Nature isn't such an attention-seeker. Not only are you better able to focus when you are out in nature, but that time in a natural setting can also help restore your ability to focus. So the benefits of spending time in nature may last a lot longer than the views do.
Keeps You Healthier Later in Life
It makes sense that being out in nature can improve your physical health. After all, walking through the woods is a lot better for your body than sitting on the couch and binging Netflix. But it turns out getting out of the house can be especially good for you in your retirement years. In a study published by the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel, researchers collected data on a group of 70-year-old participants. They recorded how often they went outside during the day as well as their overall health and mortality rates.
They found that older people developed fewer new health concerns when they went outside every day. In fact, the study found that participants who went outside more often at the age of 70 were less likely to need assistive health and living devices by the time they turned 77. They were also less likely to develop urinary incontinence. Why did getting out of the house make a difference? It's not clear. It may be a sign of increased physical activity as well as less social isolation. Whatever it is, though, it's clear that getting out of the house and into nature at least once a day will help you stay healthy now as well as long into your retirement years.
Reduces Your Risk of Developing Certain Serious Health Conditions
It's clear that spending time in nature is good for your health. Really good. The University of East Anglia in England published a study in 2018 about the health benefits of spending time in nature. The results are pretty astounding. Researchers found that participants experienced a decreased risk of developing type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure when exposed to nature. Another study published on Nature.com found that getting those health benefits only required you to spend two hours a week outside. Scientists found that it didn't matter if you got all 120 minutes at the same time or spread them out in smaller chunks over a seven day period. You still enjoyed the same health benefits.
What's more? It turns out spending time in nature could actually help your body fight cancer. In a study by the Nippon Medical School in Japan, scientists examined the blood of participants before and after they went on a three day trip to the forest. Upon their return, researchers found an increase in the amount of cancer-fighting proteins in their blood. The effects of their time in the forest lasted for a full seven days after their return. Talk about time well spent.
Can Help You Be a Nicer Human Being
Sure, nature can help make you healthier. But it can also help make you nicer. Yes, spending time hugging trees could turn you into a kinder human being. That's according to a study by the University of California published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. They found that people exposed to nature exhibited more positive social behaviors such as being generous, helpful, and trusting. Exposure to plants in an indoor setting produced positive results, too.
Here's the really interesting part, though. The more beautiful participants perceived the nature to be, the more positive social behaviors they exhibited. So the prettier the scenery, the nicer you become. That's a reason to seek out the prettiest views you can find.
Why does nature have this effect on us? It might have something to do with nature's stress-relieving abilities. Another study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that even a short amount of time spent in a natural setting helps decrease stress hormones. It didn't matter if the natural setting was in an urban or rural environment, either. That means getting out to the park on your lunch break is just as good as getting out to the forest for a weekend retreat. Find your own corner of nature and feel the stress melt away.