Remember when your mom told you to go outside to play? Turns out, he was onto something. Spending time outdoors can do great things for your body—and your mind. It is so powerful that some doctors are even writing nature prescriptions for their patients. “I schedule nature time for my patients because it supports the idea that being outside is one of the best things for our health,” says Melissa Lem, MD, director of Parks Prescription, an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation in West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Whether you live in a leafy, green suburb or a big city, the great outdoors can make you calmer, happier, and more focused.

Your brain on nature

“Decades of research have shown that interacting with nature and feeling connected to nature is associated with reduced stress and depression, improved cognition and our ability to focus, and lower heart rate and blood pressure,” said Brandi-Jo Milliron, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional sciences at Drexel University. .

How much outdoor time do you need? “Studies show that people who spend at least 2 hours per week in nature report significantly better health and well-being than those who don’t,” says Lem. “And the most effective drop in cortisol, the primary stress hormone, occurs within 20- to 30-minutes.”

take out

Amid growing economic woes and a pandemic that just won’t let up, we need outdoor time now more than ever. It’s so effective that a new study from the University of Colorado found that people who spent time in green spaces during the first year of the Covid pandemic were significantly less likely to experience stress and depression than those who didn’t.

But if you’re not feeling anxious or blue, you can still benefit from nature’s mood-boosting powers. Studies have shown that people who feel connected to nature are happier to be around. And they also report a deeper sense of well-being and self-growth.

Bonding with Mother Nature can even help you make healthier choices. In a recent study of 317 urban residents, Milliron and his team found that those who scored higher on a nature-connectedness test ate more healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. While he’s not sure why nature lovers have better diets, he has some suspicions. “I think there’s something special about how spending time in nature awakens our curiosity,” she says. “And I wonder if that curiosity carries over into the foods we choose to eat and the way we nourish our bodies.”

5 Easy Ways to Connect with Nature

Whether you have just a few minutes or an entire afternoon, these activities can help you tap into nature’s healing powers.

Go fishing, surfing, or lazing on the beach. Grass and trees are good. But areas with bodies of water, known as blue spaces, can also do good things for your psyche. In addition to less stress and a sunnier mood, spending time by the water has been linked to better relationships, more confidence, and stronger resilience.

Chill out by a fountain. Can’t go to the beach? Try soaking in the soothing sound of water. Just listening to nature sounds for 15 minutes has been shown to reduce muscle tension, slow pulse and reduce stress.

Take a walk in the woods (or a park full of trees). You will become calmer, clear-headed and energized. Plus, you’ll get a health boost from breathing in immune-boosting compounds secreted by trees and plants, called phytoncides, Lem says.

plant a garden Growing and caring for plants indoors or outdoors is an easy way to get up close and personal with nature, says Milliron. No green thumb required. “If you don’t have experience growing plants, there are wonderful resources online and in print that can help guide new plant enthusiasts,” she says.

Look out the window. Can’t get out? Just looking at nature through a window or through a picture can help. Images of the outdoors are so helpful that one study found that when students saw photos of a green park after completing a set of math problems, their body’s fight-or-flight response decreased.

Ultimately, “you don’t have to be on the side of a mountain or in the middle of the backwoods to find nature, you can find it in all kinds of places,” says Lem. “If you to feel As you have a meaningful nature experience, you will immediately notice the health benefits.”

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