Spending time in nature has physical benefits including a reduced heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure as well as a reduction in stress hormones. That’s not all, researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found an increase in the white blood cells that fight viruses and cancer in women who spent 6 hours in the woods over the course of a two-day period. The increase in white blood cells lasted at least 7 days after their nature exposure.
Spending time in nature improves mood. We move from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced. This is the main reason I turn to nature. In our overstimulating world nature offers a sense of calm that is incredibly grounding and so needed.
‘Forest bathing’ or Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan in the 1980’s and has become a cornerstone in Japanese medicine. The concept is simply to visit a natural area and walk in a relaxed way to enjoy health benefits. The proven benefits are long and include a bolstered immune system, improved recovery from surgery, improved sleep and reduced stress.
I am often prescribing vitamin N to my patients and it doesn’t have to be a large dose. The Shinrin-yoku research has found that the sweet spot is 2 hours per week which is roughly 20 minutes per day.
A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that even looking at pictures of green space for 5 minutes increased parasympathetic activity (calm) after a stressful event. It’s pretty incredible that even pictures of nature can reduce your stress. If you can’t get yourself outside more often, consider adding nature images to your home and workplace.
Ideas to increase your dose of vitamin nature:
- Take a less urban route when driving.
- Eat your lunch outside
- Go for a walk around the block
- Read in the grass
- Walk on a less urban street or make a point to walk near or in a park.
- Find windows in your home or office that overlook nature and make a point to look outside and appreciate what you see.
- In the wintertime if you are cold sensitive, spend time in a conservatory such as Como Park in St. Paul.
- Get physical outside, make a point to run outside vs on a treadmill
- Put a bird feeder outside a window that is easily visible and make a point to appreciate the animals that stop by.
- Add plants to your home and office.
- Garden! Consider a community garden if you don’t have a yard.
- Make sure you have natural light entering your home.
- Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, et al. A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2008;22(1):45-55
- Pearson DG, Craig T. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:1178. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178.
- van den Berg MM, Maas J, Muller R, et al. Autonomic Nervous System Responses to Viewing Green and Built Settings: Differentiating Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Activity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015;12(12):15860-15874. Published 2015 Dec 14. doi:10.3390/ijerph121215026