When life feels stressful there’s no other place I’d rather be than outside. Whether I retreat to my backyard, go for a walk or swim, there’s something about being outside in the fresh air that calms my stress and improves my mood.
It turns out there may be a reason for this beyond my own personal enjoyment. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that nature walks are correlated with less perceived stress, and enhanced mental health. Exercise alone helps to manage your stress response but there seems to be an even greater outcome when exercise is paired with nature.
Another study found those who lived in urban areas with little time in nature had higher cortisol levels (stress hormones) than those who lived near open greenery. No surprise other studies show those with limited exposure to nature and increased screen time (think television and computer screens) have higher rates of depression.
None of these studies are cause and effect but they do all point to similar outcomes. People tend to manage stress and experience better health and mental well being when they are regularly exposed to nature. Seems like a good idea to spend more time outdoors in nature to feel better and to be more productive with daily tasks.
Take some time to map out some places where you can get into nature each week. I live near green belts and large parks and a rose garden, which makes it easy to get out with my kids. Even if you’re a city dweller hopefully you can find a nearby park or garden. I’d bet even sitting on a porch with a few trees or plants nearby is better than nothing.
The best part? Walking in nature is free and you can do it anywhere so long as you’re not buried in snow. Unless of course you enjoy cross-country skiing or getting your snow shoes on for a wintery walk.
I truly believe in the little things to help improve your health. Eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking water or a walk in the woods will do more for you than the latest exercise and diet fads. If you want to see real results in how you feel start with the basics but most importantly, make them routine.
Meri Raffetto is the founder of Real Living Nutrition, triplet mom, dog butler and author of the Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies® and coauthor of Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies® and Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies®.