Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
I concur. Nature is vital to my mood and sense of well-being. When I was a child walking in the woods, I was convinced they were filled with magic. Pushing aside ferns at the edges of narrow winding paths with sunlight dappling the trees and my face, I escaped to a place of timelessness. The canopy of leaves far above kept the magic in and the secrets I shared with the trees safe.
As an adult, Harbor Beach in East Dennis was my haven. Barefoot walks on the wet sand, gentle waves washing over my feet, as the sun sank ever so slowly and silently, brought perspective. As the colors in the endless sky evolved from scarlet to pink, and darkened from lavender to amethyst, I found my petty problems became only a speck in the eternal and my spirit was filled with solace and peace.
Yet, for me, nature doesn’t have to include the sounds of wave and seagulls, or the misty secrets of trees. Just being outside in my backyard, grass between my toes is enough. I don’t think Thoreau created any gardens, but walking, gardening, blue skies, misty rain, and yes, trees, change my perception, calm my anxieties, and well….make me happy.
And I am not alone! You know me, there is real science behind our need to be outside in nature. When I had a clinical practice, some of my clients wanted natural options to improve their mental health. Getting outside made a difference to many.
In fact, recently the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Service sponsored research that demonstrated kids who got outside for a recess period do better in class, behave better, and score higher grades….but being a boomer who got recess this didn’t surprise me!
Being outside can offer relief for everything from anxiety, stress, and depression to just a general case of the “blahs.” So, if you still need a few more reasons to take an extra-long walk today, work in your garden, or sit on the porch after dinner, Health.com offers these:
Nature can ease depression
According to a study from the University of Michigan, group nature walks are linked to enhanced mental health and positivity, as well as significantly lower levels of depression and feelings of stress. Had a particularly hard day? Grab a friend or your significant other for a post-work mood booster.
Being outside may improve your outlook
If you’re dreading the thought of spending another workout chained to the treadmill, move outdoors for a quick burst of happiness. A study from Glasgow University showed people who walked, biked, or ran in nature had a lower risk of poor mental health than people who worked out indoors.
Time spent outdoors can improve your focus
Can’t decide where to go on your next weekend getaway? You might want to consider a trip to the countryside. According to a study published in Psychological Science, interacting with nature gives your brain a break from everyday overstimulation, which can have a restorative effect on your attention levels.
Best of all, nature can strengthen your immunity
Fun fact: The latest get-healthy pill isn’t found it in your medicine cabinet—it’s in your backyard. Researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found that women who spent six hours in the woods over the course of two days had an increase in virus and tumor-fighting white blood cells, and the boost lasted at least seven days afterwards.
So, feeling lethargic…or a bit down? Struggling with stress or anxiety? Need an energy boost or an attitude adjustment? It’s time to picnic in a park, take a trip to the shore or to the mountains, wander in the woods, or at least kick off those shoes and walk in your yard. Turns out we all need recess….and a bit of grass between our toes.