How much time do you spend outdoors?
If you’re like most of us, the answer is not much.
The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. We spend another 6% of our days shuttling around in our cars. For creatures who evolved outdoors, our time in nature nowadays is shockingly short and often relegated to brief transits in and out of buildings and…yes…cars.
I am guilty of too much city dwelling as well. Last spring, I spent a week in Maui where those statistics above got reversed. Much of my time was outdoors, swimming and sunning on the beach, and I was awestruck by how much better I felt – in every way – when I returned home.
Could it have been more than just a change of pace? Could it have been the healing salve of nature? The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that “if we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”
The Health Benefits of Being in Nature
Research is proving this to be true in more ways than one. Spending time in nature offers a wealth of physical, mental and emotional benefits. Being outdoors boosts immunity. It reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels. Studies also show that spending time outdoors improves concentration and focus, social connection and even creativity. But perhaps, most striking is what being outdoors does to our moods. Nature, it turns out, is a natural antidepressant.
Spending an hour and a half in nature helps deactivate the part of our brain that controls negative thinking, allowing us to become less preoccupied with our personal problems, explains Florence Williams, author of “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.” Williams notes that Finnish researchers have discovered that five hours in nature a month can increase overall happiness.
Perhaps this is the reason why some governments are taking a proactive approach toward encouraging their citizens to venture beyond their apartments, houses and office buildings and get outside. The government of Japan, for example, was way ahead of its time when in 1982 it created a national health program to encourage “forest bathing.”
Forest bathing involves simply being around trees–no jogging or strenuous hiking–just being around trees. Trees emit oxygen as well as oils, called phytoncides, that help boost immunity, lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones. Forest bathing has become so popular in Japan that many people join forest bathing clubs.
Just a Few Minutes in Nature a Day Can Make a Huge Impact On Your Health
But you don’t have to join a club, hike Everest, or even camp out in your backyard for a weekend to reap the rewards of being in nature. Just five minutes outdoors will instantly relax your facial muscles and slow your heart rate, among other benefits, according to Williams.
All of it is worth bringing some mindfulness to not only how we spend our time, but where we spend it. When was the last time you listened to bird song, basked in the warmth of the sun or felt the soft carpet of grass beneath your feet? On your next lunch break, why not find a tree to sit under; relax beneath the shade of its leafy canopy and know that you’re doing yourself some good.
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By eMindful Teacher Kelly Barron
About the Author
Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator, at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.