Nature has the capacity to inspire. But the benefits go way past inspiration alone. In fact, overwhelming evidence in scientific literature supports that nature exposure improves both physiological and psychological human health. Humans who get more nature exposure not only live longer, but are also healthier, with less obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and physical distress (just to name a few of the benefits).
How Does it Work?
Exposure to nature has been shown to lower concentrations of the primary stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and decrease sympathetic nerve activity (the fight-or-flight response), while also increasing parasympathetic activity (the rest-and-digest response). And, lucky for us, a recent study shows that exposure to greenspaces also reduces pain. Although the exact mechanism is not yet clear, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make a point to get out into nature as part of our healing path.
5 Ways to Increase Your Nature Exposure:
1. Go outside.
Seems obvious right? But, it’s not as common as you might think. Our modern urban lives often separate us from the natural world and lead to a major nature deficit. Getting back into nature takes conscious effort, especially when you live in an urban landscape. Drink your morning coffee outdoors instead of indoors, walk to the mailbox and then walk a little more, make a point to get to your local park, or simply take off your shoes in your backyard and take a few deep breaths. Whatever it is, do it, and do it daily.
2. Plant a garden.
Recent research has uncovered some truly amazing benefits of the microbiome in soil. It turns out, getting your hands in the dirt is actually associated with less depression and anxiety, and increased resiliency in the face of stressors. Data suggests these responses may be mediated by anti-inflammatory effects of the bacteria in soil. Go! Get dirty!
3. Bring nature indoors.
Both trees and plants have innumerable health benefits, so why not bring them inside? Surrounding yourself with green in your home space is not only pleasing to the eyes; it brings you into contact with the natural support plants give so freely. In fact, phytokines, released from plants and trees, increases natural killer (NK) cell activity and decreases concentrations of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.
4. Practice yoga outside.
There’s nothing like practicing movement in open green spaces. Of course we’re biased towards yoga, but the mind-body practices of yoga can actually enhance your experience of the nature around you. Let nature into your practice, and soak up the double benefits.
5. Practice mindfulness with nature through your senses.
Connecting with nature through your senses is the supreme mindfulness practice, and has the added benefit of greenspace exposure! Create space for feeling the warmth of the sun or the coolness of the breeze on your skin. Listen to the sounds of the animals you share space with. Smell the fragrances of the plants who call your home home. Gaze at the intricacy of a flower or marvel at the ingenuity of ants marching. Slow down in nature. Get curious. Get connected.
Li H, Zhang X, Bi S, Cao Y, Zhang G. Can Residential Greenspace Exposure Improve Pain Experience? A Comparison between Physical Visit and Image Viewing. Healthcare (Basel). 2021 Jul 20;9(7):918. doi: 10.3390/healthcare9070918. PMID: 34356296; PMCID: PMC8306991.
Jo, H., Song, C. & Miyazaki, Y. Physiological benefits of viewing nature: A systematic review of indoor experiments. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health vol. 16 (2019).
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T. & Miyazaki, Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine vol. 15 18–26 (2010).
Stanhope J, Breed MF, Weinstein P. Exposure to greenspaces could reduce the high global burden of pain. Environ Res. 2020 Aug;187:109641. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109641. Epub 2020 May 8. PMID: 32447087; PMCID: PMC7207132.
Li, Q. et al. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int. J. Immunopathol. Pharmacol. 22, 951–959 (2009).