At some point almost everyone has gone outside for a little bit of sunshine and fresh air and soon after, if not immediately, felt the positive effects that being outdoors can have on the mind and body.
Restore Health and Relax with a Walk
There are a number of reasons that someone might not make it outdoors on a regular basis, such as bad weather, a busy schedule, or just having a habit of spending time indoors. However, the benefits of being around trees and plant-life could make a difference in your day. A significant enough difference, in fact, that the Japanese suggest a forest “bath” for restored health and relaxation.
Forest bathing (which many might refer to as nature hikes) involves going for a calm walk in the forest and breathing in natural fragrances found in the air, including active phytoncides. Phytoncides are wood oils that are emitted from plants as a defense against decay and consumption by insects and animals.Phytoncides are not the only beneficial aspect of nature hikes: a break from technology (such as your cell phone or laptop) can be meditative, you are getting the physical benefits of exercise, and the sun can also lift your mood.
Studies have Found Forest Environments Beneficial to Health
Science backs up this idea.
For example, a study conducted across 24 forests and 280 people in Japan found that “that forest environments could lower concentrations of cortisol,* lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, increase parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity compared with city settings.”
Many studies have made similar suggestions. According to an article in Science Daily, an environment and behavior researcher at the University of Illinois, Frances “Ming” Kuo, has also found green environments to be beneficial to health. Kuo found that in addition to affecting physical health, nature led people to have better cognitive and overall mental health, as well as improved willpower.
Rachel Kaufmann, a student at the University of North Alabama, finds relief in nature when she needs a break from her busy routine. She tries to spend time outdoors as often as possible—usually somewhere between once a day and once a week.
“Wildlife really does affect me when I’m stressed out and suffering from anxiety. I like to find a state park or trail and walk around it, or even just sit and watch the surrounding nature and relax,” Kaufmann said.
Incorporate Wildlife into your Daily Routine
Even if you can’t easily take a forest bath or a nature hike, incorporating wildlife into your daily life can still provide some of these same benefits. Here are some suggestions:
- Plant some herbs in small pots for your kitchen. Keep them indoors until it gets warmer and then replant them outside.
- Find some wildflowers and take the time to press them in a book.
- Place a bird or squirrel feeder outside your window—you will spend time looking at the animals and at the outdoor plants.
- Put potted plants such as African violets, cactus or orchids in your windowsill.
- Decorate your dinner table with a fresh vase of flowers.
- Plant a new garden or trees in your yard. You can grow fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, etc.
- Make a homemade terrarium. Find an old glass jar, put an inch or two of soil in the bottom, place moss or other small plants on top of the dirt, add rocks, shells or sticks (or anything else you like), moisten the soil with about a tablespoon of water, and secure saran wrap to the rim using a rubber band.
- Place pictures of your favorite outdoor spots throughout your home.
These are just some thoughts to get you started. Be creative and come up with your own ideas that incorporate your favorite aspects of nature into your everyday life. Whether it is a regular forest bath or a new backyard garden, spending time connecting with the earth is a simple and easy way to make a significant difference in your health.
*Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland when the body is stressed.