Staying fit and healthy today is synonymous with having a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, avoiding or reducing stress, and taking supplements, when necessary.
However, there is one activity that can help people stay in good health that many people may not be doing enough of, and that’s spending time in nature.
Going outdoors, particularly in a green, clean area, can do wonders for your health. Various studies have proven this and new research is constantly being conducted to discover the other benefits that nature has on the human body.
What are the exact health benefits you can gain from spending time outdoors? Below are five positive effects your body will experience whenever you commune with nature:
1. Enhanced heart health
One of the most documented positive effects of nature on wellness is improved cardiovascular health.
A study shows that cases of high blood pressure or hypertension could be reduced by nine percent if people spend at least 30 minutes in a park per week.
High blood pressure, when left untreated, can lead to coronary artery disease and heart failure. It can also cause other possibly fatal ailments such as aneurysm and stroke.
Medication is typically prescribed to treat hypertension, but you can also let nature help you overcome this condition.
The green surroundings and reduced heat in a park have a calming effect which helps lower a person’s blood pressure. Taking a walk in an area like this, which is an excellent form of exercise, improves cardiovascular function as well.
As such, if you enjoy weekly jaunts at the Umm al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi, make sure you walk around for at least 30 minutes to appreciate the surroundings and experience nature’s positive effects on your heart health.
2. Stronger immune system
It is common among the Japanese to include forest bathing in their weekly routine. This practice simply means lying, sitting down or walking around in an area surrounded by trees and greeneries.
Research conducted in Japan shows that this simple practice helps boost the immune system. This is mainly thanks to the plants emitting phytoncide, an antibacterial and antifungal chemical. When you inhale this substance, your body produces more NK or natural killer cells, a type of lymphocyte that destroys cells infected by viruses and tumors.
Additionally, when you are exposed to the various types of bacteria present in natural areas, your immune system also works hard to protect your body, strengthening and improving its function at the same time.
If you want to develop better immunity and live longer like the Japanese (who have one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world), start spending more time in green spaces.
3. Improved mood levels
Spending excessive amounts of time shopping, indulging in your favorite treats, and binge-watching are activities that some people do to get out of a low mood. However, keep in mind that not only are these practices costly, but they are generally unhealthy, too.
If you want to get out of a low mood, go outdoors instead. Join a class teaching yoga, Pilates, or tai-chi at the park. Better yet, take a walk, go hiking, or cycle; the Hatta Mountain Conservation Reserve is the perfect place for these three activities if you are in Dubai.
A study shows that people experiencing some mental health problems showed substantial improvements in mood levels and even self-esteem by regularly engaging in activities that take place outdoors.
This result is said to be caused by the combination of physical exercise, the element of nature, and social interaction.
4. Reduced depression
Depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the world. More than 300 million people are affected by depression. If not properly and immediately addressed, a person’s psychological and physical condition could deteriorate significantly, and suicide becomes a possibility. Online therapy will also heal this situation.
According to one research, outdoor activities or excursions can lower a person’s risk of experiencing depression. Scientists measured the brain activity of people who took a 90-minute nature walk and found that they had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is active when a person is deep in repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.
A person who experiences depression often has a hyperactive prefrontal cortex. By taking a walk outdoors or hiking, the individual can calm down and stabilize this part of the brain, and this can positively impact his or her depression and anxieties.
Additionally, scientists also say that nature offers other therapeutic benefits. The green scenery, calming silence, and soothing nature sounds can lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone linked to depression.
Moreover, the beautiful flora and natural surroundings themselves can help distract people from their negative thoughts and low mood.
5. Improved cognitive function
Finally, routines and other daily activities can take a toll on your brain. Multitasking, in particular, can cause you to have difficulties concentrating and lose focus easily.
According to one study, simply looking at something green, such as a green roof, can improve one’s focus. This, in turn, boosts the person’s productivity and performance.
This result will be doubled if you start spending more time outdoors. By giving your brain time to rest and calm itself down by experiencing greenery, you will boost your focus and concentration, helping yourself become ready for the next activities.
Additionally, a report says that after communing with nature, many people experience a surge in creativity. There is also an improvement in their problem-solving skills.
If you want to become more creative and productive at work, take regular strolls at a nearby park and visit gardens, nature reserves, and other green spaces to give your mind a refreshing break.
To experience better health physically, mentally, and emotionally, take advantage of one of the most effective treatment options: nature therapy. Best of all, it is free. There is no reason for you to miss out on all the wonderful benefits the environment has to offer.
AUTHOR BIO Rasha El Saleh is the Conservation Education and Outreach Coordinator in the education team of Emirates Nature-WWF working on its programme, Connect with Nature. She leads the outreach and youth empowerment aspect in growing the Connect with Nature community within the UAE and providing opportunities for youth to lead in this community, in addition to supporting partnerships with vendors supporting and promoting active aspects of the programme.