It’s no secret that nature and the great outdoors is good for our mental and physical health. We’ve all felt the rush of serotonin of a wild camping trip or a coastal hike, or the rush of adrenaline of a fierce surf.
When we hear the word nature, we think of babbling brooks, tall trees and rolling hills. These images make us feel calm because they represent peace. They remind us of our favourite children’s books and they’re a far cry from our offices and daily chores.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s science, studies that prove the chemical reactions behind the physical and mental benefits of the great outdoors. And historical practices and customs that bring us back to Mother Earth.
The Therapeutic Great Outdoors
Many therapists and mental health charities offer something called ecotherapy, a type of therapeutic treatment involving outdoor activities in nature. The Wilderness Foundation uses wild nature as a therapeutic tool to support vulnerable young people and adults. Using adventure as a method of healing can even be traced back to many centuries-old cultures including Native American, Jewish and Christian cultures.
But do they work? Well, a Nature Research Report from mentalhealth.org has some pretty irrefutable stats:
- 70% of UK adults agreed that being close to nature improves their mood
- 62% felt the benefits of spending time in the countryside
- 65% of people said that spending time by water has a positive impact on their mental health.
It’s hard to argue with that!
Spiritual gurus, meditation teachers and nature lovers often speak of something called grounding – a practice that restores our connection with the Earth.
Grounding is said to reduce pain, stress and inflammation, and improves energy, blood flow, and sleep by connecting us to the Earth’s electric charge.
It’s as simple as walking barefoot outdoors, feet and toes in the grass, soil, sand or stone – a physical connection of our bodies to the Earth that holds us.
Some studies show that forest bathing, an ancient Japanese exercise called shinrin-yoku, has positive, even calming effects on the body and the mind. This is due, in part, to its use of mindfulness. The shinrin-yoku phenomenon gained popularity in 1980s Japan as a way to escape the chaos of working life. A simple walk through the forest was quickly proven to reduce anxiety, stress and depression.
But the benefits are also down to phytoncides, nature’s medicine. Phytoncides are an organic substance (essential oils) emitted by plants and trees that when breathed in, have wonderful effects on the human body. Some of these benefits are improved immune response, anti-inflammation, and lowered activity in the nervous system.
Combine any of these practices with exercise, and your body and mind will thank you.
It’s well known that exercise not only benefits the body, but the mind, too. Exercising prompts your brain to release mood-enhancing chemicals like endorphins and serotonin.
Exercises like running, cycling, or extreme sports such as rock climbing, surfing and snowboarding help the body produce adrenaline, making your brain more alert and raising your blood sugar levels to give you energy. Think of it as a hormone smoothie for the mind and body!
Friends of the Environment
It might be obvious, but those who are well connected with nature and spend much of their time appreciating the outdoors are more likely to display pro-environmental behaviours. Even small acts such as recycling and switching to sustainable items have a positive effect on our environment and come more easily to nature lovers.
There’s an abundance of evidence that being in nature benefits us, reconnects us to the Earth, and helps us find meaning and purpose. It teaches us to find beauty in what’s already around us, helps us reset and recharge, and reminds us to look after our environment. It’s our home, after all.
So, dust off that old bike and head to the forest. Find your nearest grassy patch or sandy beach and see how it feels to ground yourself. Or dose up on nature’s medicine and stroll through the trees. Need some inspiration for your next outdoor adventure? Or perhaps a gift for an adventurous friend? Check out our sustainable, wooden air fresheners that don’t hurt Mother Earth!