Spending more time in nature is good for you, especially if you’re recovering from addiction or mental illness. Whether you just take a daily walk in the park or go camping for two weeks in Yosemite, science keeps discovering new ways that nature is good for your physical and mental health. Here are some of the many benefits you can get from spending more time in nature.
Natural settings reduce stress.
Many studies have found that spending time in nature reduces stress and anxiety. The effect is actually measurable. One study in Japan examined 280 participants who spent time walking around in both natural and urban environments. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” in 1982 and has since promoted the idea that spending time in nature is good for your health.
In this particular study, participants spent about 30 minutes viewing or walking around in either a city or natural environment. The next day, they switched environments. Researchers measured a number of physiological markers before, during, and after each participant’s exposure to either natural or urban environments. They found that after walking in a natural environment, participants had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rates, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.
In short, walking in and viewing nature reduced every physical measure of stress. This is helpful for anyone but especially important for people recovering from addiction since stress and anxiety are major causes of cravings and relapse.
Nature strengthens your immune system.
Spending time in nature has been linked improvement in various conditions including depression, diabetes, ADHD, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and others, but researchers haven’t been able to figure out exactly why nature improves these conditions. At least one study suggests that it’s because spending time in nature improves the function of your immune system. University of Illinois researcher Ming Kuo analyzed many studies on the relationship between nature and health and found that of the 21 separate pathways linking nature and better health, all but 2 were mediated by the immune system.
There are a variety of ways that spending time in nature improves your immune system. A major way, as noted above, is that nature reduces stress. When your parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, as in the participants who had spent time in nature, it signals your body that it’s time to heal from illness or injury.
There are other ways nature helps your immune system as well. Plants produce their own chemicals called phytoncides that kill harmful bacteria and these chemicals can aid our immune systems too. There are also microbes in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that have been shown to boost serotonin and reduce anxiety. They are also being studied for their potential to treat asthma, cancer, depression, and other diseases.
Fresh air and sunlight are good for you.
In addition to the rather obscure ways nature can make you more relaxed and healthy, there is also good old fashioned fresh air and sunlight. Few people realize how bad indoor air quality often is. Pollutants are often much more concentrated inside than outside. Indoor pollutants might include carbon monoxide, high levels of carbon dioxide, pet hair, mold, bacteria, pollen, radon, and dust. If you think your indoor air quality is pretty good, have a look at your central air filter. Poor indoor air quality can lead to allergies, respiratory infections, and impaired cognitive performance.
Getting out in nature gets you away from these indoor pollutants and typically away from many outdoor pollutants as well. Dense vegetation cleans the air and often buffers you from car exhaust too. Alas, you may still have to endure pollen.
Sunlight is also crucial to good health. Most of our vitamin D is produced in the skin when it’s hit by sunlight. Although you don’t see many people with rickets these days, most of us spend most of our time inside and therefore are moderately vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to various conditions including heart disease, diabetes, weak bones, obesity, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Awe is good for the spirit.
Spending time in nature is relaxing, but it can also inspire a more powerful feeling: awe. Standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, gazing up at the northern lights, or watching a thunderstorm roll in over the ocean are awe-inspiring experiences that radically change your perception of the scale of human life. Studies have found that this experience of awe actually has psychological benefits. Whereas forest bathing relaxes you and slows down your heart rate, awe-inspiring experiences actually do the opposite. Your breathing and heart rate speed up. And perhaps surprisingly, awe-inspiring experiences seem to promote prosocial behavior. A series of experiments by Paul K. Piff from the University of California, Irvine indicate a link between awe and generosity. In one of these experiments, participants were shown several different kinds of video clips–comedy, neutral, or awe-inspiring. Participants who viewed the awe-inspiring clips, scenes from Planet Earth, later displayed more generous behaviors. Other experiments found similar links.
This suggests that exposure to awe-inspiring scenes may be especially good for people recovering from addiction. Piff speculated that a sense of awe reduces your sense of self-importance and makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself, which is, of course, the central aim of working the 12-steps. The prosocial feelings a sense of awe promotes can also connect you to others and help you build the kind of social support that is crucial to recovery.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Detox Center of Colorado offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Detox Center of Colorado fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463