Staying inside and staring at our screens all day long has become such a norm that it does not even register as a problem anymore. Add a pandemic on top of that, most of us can say that our daily screen usage easily crosses 10 hours. This easy and comfortable-looking lifestyle can be more detrimental to our health than we realize.
Both our body and mind pay a heavy toll on this sedentary way of living. It puts our body at higher risk for developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, colon cancer and can even lead to an early death. The harms don’t just stop at the body but can equally damage the mind, leading to an increase in anxiety, depression, sleep and appetite problems, memory and concentration issues, cognitive problems, mood disorders, and exacerbating existing mental health conditions.
Your environment can have a drastic impact on your overall well-being. What you see, hear and experience at any moment directly correlates with not only your thinking and mood but also how your nervous and immune systems function. The stress from being in an unnatural and unpleasant environment for too long can lead both your body and mind into a downward spiral.
Fortunately, a solution exists that not only stops these problems from progressing but may even reverse the damage — and that is our innate connection to nature.
From taking a walk in the park to hiking in the woods, a good amount of exposure to nature does a lot more than just make you feel good, moving your body and placing yourself in a natural relaxing environment is an instantaneous and all-natural antidepressant that starts a biological cascade of events that results in several benefits, including significantly improving your mood, reducing stress, and helping you feel relaxed.
Research[2,3] has shown that being exposed to natural environments helps you improve your cognitive functioning by improving your memory, attention control, flexibility in thinking, impulse control, and vigilance, among a variety of other benefits.
Another study showed that other than improving your cognitive abilities, nature directly impacts your happiness and emotional regulation. Spending time in nature decreases mental distress and increases satisfaction, subjective well-being, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Breathing fresh air raises oxygen levels in your brain, thus increasing the regulation of serotonin[5,6]. Other feel-good chemicals such as endorphins[5–7] are also released when we engage in physical exercise. Furthermore, natural sunlight affects melatonin[5–8] in our bodies that helps us sleep better and wake up early in the morning without feeling groggy or lethargic.
The researchers also found that people who walked for around 90 minutes in a natural area showed a decreased activity in the region of the brain associated with depression in comparison to those who walked in high-traffic urban areas.
We can also implement mindfulness into our natural retreats to feel a greater sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Mindfulness involves being fully aware of the present moment. It is the opposite of distraction and multitasking. When you are mindful, you are paying full attention to whatever you are doing and how it is making you feel.
We can do this by engaging in forest bathing, where you completely immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Studies have shown that forest bathing provides us with a heap of positive psychological effects such as decreasing blood pressure, improving autonomic and immune functions, alleviating depression, and improving mental wellbeing.
In this manner, bringing nature into your life can turn out to be that one big step you take towards changing the course of your life for the better by providing you with excellent long-term benefits in both the physical and mental domains.
1 Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO. . [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/news/item/04-04-2002-physical-inactivity-a-leading-cause-of-disease-and-disability-warns-who. [Accessed: 01-Jun-2021]
5 30-Jun-(2015) , Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. . [Online]. Available: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/june/hiking-mental-health-063015.html. [Accessed: 01-Jun-2021]
9 Furuyashiki, A. et al. (2019) A comparative study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) on working age people with and without depressive tendencies. Environ. Health Prev. Med. 24,