Science confirms time in nature improves physical, mental health

I’ve known for a long time that a walk in the woods does wonders for my attitude and spirit. A series of 28 studies now shows that any time spent in nature, especially around tree cover, improves mental and physical health.

Instead of reaching for their prescription pads to add another drug to their patient’s health regiments, perhaps physicians should be suggesting a walk in nature instead.

The Lancet reviewed 92 unique studies, of which 28 of them showed that time in nature worked to:

  • Reduce blood pressure, both diastolic and systolic
  • Decrease anxiety scores
  • Lower depression scores
  • Improve daily step counts
  • Provide evidence of cardiometabolic and mental health benefits
  • Increase walking ability

“This study is built upon a long-term program of research that we are doing, where we show contact with nature—and trees especially—is really good for strengthening mental and physical health across our lives,” Professor Xiaoqi Feng, from University of New South Wales Medicine and Health, told the Good News Network.

I live in Arizona, and I have been getting up early to take a brisk three-mile walk before the scorching sun makes any outdoor activity difficult to do. I’ve experienced some good benefits from establishing this routine, such as weight loss and better concentration. After doing it daily for about three weeks and I also noticed an improvement in my walking ability.

I grew up in Wisconsin, where paths through heavily-wooded areas were abundant. Just walking through a woods, listening to birds and inhaling the pine-scented air did wonders for helping stress to melt away. I miss having a wooded area less than 20 minutes away.

So, it was no surprise to me when one of the 28 studies reported improved well-being among those people living in tree-covered areas.

The implications of these studies are waking people up to the benefits of being outdoors. In fact, there appears to be a strong push in European countries to encourage doctors to write “nature prescriptions” to their patients to entice them to spend more time outdoors.

A survey in Australia showed that 80% of people were in favor of the idea. Perhaps, the COVID debacle has opened people’s eyes to natural alternatives to health rather than relying on increased use of pharmaceuticals, like injections and pills.

I know one of the benefits of spending time in Arizona’s sunlight is that it works to initiate the ability to produce Vitamin D in someone’s body. The health effects of Vitamin D are many, including strengthening the immune system, creating stronger bones, reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure.

So, even if you don’t have a wooded area in which to traipse around, being outdoors still works wonders.

“What we need now is to work out how to make nature prescriptions happen in a sustained way for those people with high potential to benefit, but who currently spend little time in nature,” said Professor Feng.

The full story is available at Good News Network.