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Get Out in Nature!

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Written by Dr. Paul

Want to know one of the best things you can do for your health this summer? This one thing can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate, and at the same time improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and make you more creative. This amazing thing is nature!

Today, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and technology is constantly controlling our attention. People are spending more time indoors, online, and isolated. Multiple recent studies are showing the benefit of nature on our brains and our bodies:

  • A 2009 Dutch study found a lower incidence of 15 diseases including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines in people who lived within about a half mile of a park or green space.  

  • A 2014 study in Japan had people walk for 15 minutes in different forests or in a city center. The forest walkers had a 16% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2% drop in blood pressure, and a 4% drop in heart rate.

  • A 2015 Stanford study looked at functional MRIs of participants’ brains after 90 minute walks in both nature and urban settings. The people that walked in nature as opposed to those that walked in an urban setting showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression and depressive thoughts.  

  • A 2012 study showed that hikers on a 4 day backpacking trip could solve 47% more puzzles requiring creativity compared to a control group prior to taking the same hike. Other things may have accounted for this, but similar studies have also shown improvement in attention and cognitive function after time in nature.

A recent National Geographic article highlights how nature exerts its beneficial effects. Researchers believe that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to slow down and rest, like an overworked muscle. Nature essentially works by lowering stress. Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior. As seen in some of the above studies, measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating have shown that even short doses of nature can calm people down and sharpen their performance.  

Make the most of this summer and your vacations, and do one of the best things you can do for your health – get out in nature!