Healing in Nature
As the weather begins to warm up, spending time outdoors becomes more appealing. There is something about nature that soothes, relaxes and heals our entire being. Whether it is spending time in the country side or by the beach, in a local park or simply outside in the garden, the combination of fresh air, plant life and space can help bring us back to a calmer, deeper version of ourselves.
There are now many studies supporting the healing benefits of nature. A 2019 study, reported in Harvard Health, found that spending just 20 minutes immersed in nature can help lower stress hormone levels. In another study, the European Centre for Environment & Human Health, at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week outdoors were more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. The good news is that this two-hour window can be taken all at once, or broken up into smaller chunks spread throughout the week.
There are lots of ways in which spending time in nature can be positive for our health and wellbeing – from physical exercise to gaining a sense of calm and peace, to improved concentration and psychological relaxation. Some of these benefits are described below.
Combining time outside with the practice of ‘mindfulness’, where we direct our focus to the present moment, has been found to improve concentration, reduce feelings of stress and increase our sense of wellbeing. The Japanese concept of forest bathing believes that by mindfully immersing oneself in nature, we ‘bathe’ the senses with a range of sensory experiences, which can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social health. Related to this idea, a mindful walk, where we simply notice and observe the scenery around us, has similar effects and benefits to a more formal meditation and is a wonderful practice to undertake regularly.
An important link has been found between spending time outdoors and how physically active we are. Walking or running seems to give us an extra boost when done in natural environments, rather than indoors, supporting our feelings of wellbeing and positivity. The fact is that when outdoors we are more likely to move, whether that be walking, playing, taking part in sport, or even gardening, all of which benefit our health on many levels.
Connecting with others
Having strong, healthy and supportive relationships with those around us is important for our wellbeing. Nature has an important role in developing and maintaining these relationships, as we often meet and socialise with others when outdoors. In fact, natural spaces can provide a convenient, low-cost opportunity to get together with others, which is another way to support good mental health and to help connect us to family, friends and the broader community.
The reasons why time in nature has these effects on us are complex and still being fully understood but there is no doubt that a connection to nature benefits us on many levels. These benefits are often related to how our senses connect us to the environment around us, from the calming shapes and colours we see in nature, to the scents of trees and flowers, which can help our minds to settle and rest. Our outlook tends to broaden and deepen and we feel a greater connection to the world and to ourselves. Whether we prefer to walk, play sport, catch up with friends or family, or spend time in our garden, there are many ways to derive the wonderful benefits nature brings us.
By Kerrie Clayton
Kerrie has been a member of the AHHCA for over 10 years and is currently part of its Committee of Management. She is a qualified Holistic Health Practitioner and Reiki Master. Kerrie may be contacted via www.wellnesswithkerrie.com