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How Does Spending Time in Nature Impact Our Well-Being?

The DPFF team has been taking full advantage of the summer weather and relaxed Covid restrictions, spending as much time in our enchanting natural surroundings as possible. Mountains, desert landscapes, and forests are lush and blooming after an uncharacteristically rainy spring in New Mexico.

Spending time in nature makes us feel good in such a unique way. Feelings of awe, wonder, beauty, and connectedness are plentiful as we soak up scenes of wildlife grazing, birds soaring, and colorful wildflowers dancing in the wind.

Nature time is so effective at shifting our moods and mindsets that we decided to take a deeper look at just how this exposure to the wild world is affecting our minds, bodies, and hearts (literally and poetically!)

Here’s what we found:

Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

Humans have always intuitively known that spending time in nature is good for us. Simply because it feels good. In the last decade however, scientists have been delving into the why and how of nature’s feel-good effects on our well-being.

The University of Minnesota examines how environments can increase or decrease stress, and how that impacts our bodies, affecting not only our mood, but how the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are functioning.

Being in nature or looking at scenes of nature reduces feelings of anger, fear, and stress while increasing pleasant feelings, like joy, gratitude, and peacefulness. Physically, it reduces blood pressure, cortisol production, heart rate, and muscle tension.

Exposure to natural light and negative ions helps us get more, deeper, and better healing sleep. This has innumerable effects on our overall health.

An article from Colorado State University highlights a study that found access to natural scenery helps hospital patients recover faster. According to the study, they showed increased recovery rates, required fewer pain medicines, and had less complications compared to those who viewed urban scenes.

A study by the British Ecological Society examines the health benefits specific to encountering non-companion (or wild) animals. They found that seeing animals in the wild contributes to feelings of peace, the ability to breathe and think, and a break from inner stresses and turmoil of the mind.

A 2019 study published in Nature found that the benefits of being in nature kick in after two hours, meaning you should aim to spend at least two hours outside or viewing scenes of nature in a week. That’s less than 20 minutes a day!

The Importance of Nature for Children

Modern generations are spending much more time indoors and in front of screens than their parents, and it’s having a detrimental effect on children’s health.

Not only is the lack of exercise leading to increased obesity rates among children, but mental-emotional disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anger, depression, and low self-esteem are commonplace among school-aged children today.

According to BBC News, children exposed to nature experience increased self-esteem and ability to safely take risks. It heightens creativity, provides a chance to exercise and play, and in some cases nature can significantly improve the symptoms of ADHD.

The research on the importance of access to nature for childhood development is so diverse and widely accepted that health experts, researchers, and government officials are advocating for changes that would help bring nature into people’s everyday lives.

For example, “park deserts” is now a term used in policymaking which focuses on urban areas without parks or green spaces. Businesses and office spaces are also paying attention to this need for greenery, which increases worker morale, health, and productivity.

The Trust for Public Lands (TPL) recently completed a seven-year project that mapped all the parks in the an effort to identify places lacking in green spaces.

For children, “forest schools,” which have long been popular in Germany and Scandinavia, have seen a 500% increase in the US since 2012, according to Yale.

The Benefits of Coming Into Contact With the Earth

Aside from the myriad of mental health benefits of exposure to nature, children (and adults) can benefit greatly from coming into contact with the earth.

The National Wildlife Foundation released a report on how getting dirty benefits children not only by reducing stress and anxiety but by exposing them to bacteria, parasites, and viruses that strengthen their developing immune systems.

Adults and children can benefit from coming into contact with the dirt through a process known as earthing. According to a study in the NCBI journal, earthing -- or reconnecting the body to the Earth’s surface electrons -- can lead to better sleep, reduction in pain, reduced inflammation, and more.

Final Thoughts: Let’s Get Outside!

We don’t know about you, but we’re convinced. Humans need nature to keep in balance and to connect with our true essence. We are nature. Let’s get out there and soak up the benefits of connecting with this incredible planet and all the beings that inhabit it!

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