Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors with my family and friends. As I’ve grown and attended college, I’ve begun to experience the intense levels of stress that surround adulthood. Some stress comes from activities which we have chosen, some stress comes from situations we have no control over. Living in the city means I don’t get to experience nature on a daily basis but I know if I drive a little ways out of the city, I’ll find some natural space to immerse myself in. I’ve always felt spending time in nature had a positive effect on my health but I never investigated the science behind that feeling.
A 2015 study done by a graduate student at Stanford University looked at the psychological effects of walking in nature for an hour. The study consisted of 60 participants, half of whom were told to walk for an hour near a multi-lane highway while the other half walked through a green, parklike area on campus. Before the walk, the researchers gave the participants a questionnaire to assess their negative affect (depression, anxiety, discouragement), rumination (dwelling on a topic in your mind), and levels of stress and anxiety. The questionnaire was then followed by a brain scan to track blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where rumination and depression are expressed. After the hour long walk, researchers assessed participants in the same two ways, finding that the group who walked through nature had lower scores on the questionnaire and decreased blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. The group that walked alongside the highway had the same questionnaire scores and still high levels of blood flow in the subgenual prefrontal cortex.
All this to say that walking through a natural environment for even just an hour has significant and immediate effects on lifting your mood and mental state.
Walking for 30 minutes a day strengthens your cardiovascular system- your heart, arteries and blood pathways- reducing your risk of heart disease. Walking also benefits your musculoskeletal system- bones and muscles- in a variety of ways. It is lower impact on your system than running but strengthens your bones and muscles, lowering the risk of osteoporosis. Walking, like any physical activity, helps control weight. According to Livestrong, walking for one mile at a moderately brisk pace burns 100 calories. We also know that walking, like other aerobic activities, produces endorphins in the body. Endorphins result in an enhanced feeling of overall well-being while lowering stress levels, both physically and emotionally.
Immersing ourselves in nature can relieve attention fatigue, giving you the ability to increase our attention capacity, recalibrate your senses, increase creativity and your ability to connect with other people. Since we crave human connection and feeling like we’re part of a group, this is especially beneficial. Being able to let go of the stress you’ve been holding onto will make you feel physically and mentally lighter, making you feel happier. Taking time to be in nature will increase your feelings of independence and self-confidence, empowering you with feelings of hopefulness and generosity (here’s more on the effects of generous giving).
There you have it, there’s science behind why being in nature makes you feel better. Even if you live in a city, you can find a natural environment nearby to retreat to each day or each week to be proactive about your overall health and well-being.
I’ll also leave you with this bonus tip: when most people hear you’re taking a trip to Las Vegas they assume you’re going for a weekend getaway on The Strip. But did you know Las Vegas is surrounded by natural beauty? I’ve discovered only a handful of what this desert oasis has to offer. All of these pictures were taken at Mt. Charleston, only an hour away from all the lights and action. So, if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas for any reason, you should visit Mt. Charleston; you won’t regret it!
Pictures original to the author