From reducing stress to improving sleep, spending time outdoors can work wonders for our minds.
But there also “non-material” ways in which nature contributes to our well-being.
A 2022 paper published in Science, based on a systematic review of over 300 studies conducted across 61 countries, found that spending time in nature contributes to our well-being in over 200 non-material ways. These unique “pathways” were then classified into 16 distinct types of connections through which people experience the non-material positive effects of nature.
Here are some of the most interesting ones:
- Cohesiveness. Interacting with nature contributes to how well people connect with each other.
- Intuition. Being around nature can have an effect on the human instinct, our sensual experiences and feelings that have to do with a spiritual or religious origin.
- Satisfaction. Nature can influence our feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment.
- Transformation. Connecting with nature can instantly uplift our mood and spark changes in our attitude, behaviors and so on.
Another study found that there were significant differences in the cognitive functioning of people who spent time in nature compared to those who spent time in urban environments. While being out in nature was linked to improvements in cognitive flexibility, working memory and attention span, being around an urban environment was found to contribute to a lower attention span.
Clearly, being outdoors offers a lot of psychological benefits. This forms the underlying principle of nature therapy or ecotherapy, which is a burgeoning field in mental health therapy that strives to harness the power of nature to help individuals manage their mental health better.
But with so many activities to choose from, what are the best ways to maximize the benefits nature provides? Here are two of the best things you can do to make your time spent in the great outdoors worth every minute.
1. Practice Mindfulness In Nature
If you are being mindful, it means that you are paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and openness.
A 2020 study found that the level of mindfulness you experience when you are outdoors can have an effect on two important aspects of human well-being: positive affect and life satisfaction.
No matter who you are, there’s some type of activity you can do in nature that will appeal to you. If you live near a hill, go hiking. If you enjoy being at the beach, go swimming. If you have an adventurous streak in you, try camping. If you prefer to do nothing, do nothing while surrounded by the lush green trees of your favorite park.
The point is, as long as you are living in the moment and taking in all the sights and sounds of nature, being outdoors can have a significant effect on how satisfied and fulfilled you are with your life.
2. Have You Tried Green Exercising?
The physical and mental health benefits of exercising are endless. A 2023 umbrella review meta-analyzed 97 reviews to reveal that as little as 150 minutes of exercise per week may be far more effective in reducing symptoms of common mental health conditions (like depression, anxiety and psychological distress) compared to traditional methods of treatment.
One way to double the effects of exercise is to combine it with the positive effects of being connected with nature. You can choose any type of exercise that suits your preferences and abilities, but the key is to find a natural setting that inspires you and makes you feel good. Some examples of green exercise are:
- Jogging, cycling, or hiking in a park, forest, or beach
- Doing yoga or tai chi in a garden or a green space
- Playing sports or games with friends or family outdoors
- Gardening or farming in your backyard or at a community plot
Once you have picked an activity and a spot, break a sweat. To further increase the benefits of working out in nature, be mindful of your surroundings and how your body is reacting to the workout.
You don’t have to fly to a picturesque tourist destination to appreciate the positive effects nature has on our well-being. All it takes is a regular dose of green and blue spaces, and we can be well on our way toward being happier, healthier people. While modern life often pulls us towards urban environments, it’s crucial to remember the healing power of nature and incorporate it into our everyday routines.