December 19, 2019 | 49 minutes, 31 seconds
By now, we’ve all heard of the healing properties of nature, like the healing magic of a walk through the woods! Ayurveda described the benefits of nature thousands of years ago. More recently, in the 1980s, a Japanese practice became popular called shinrin-yoku, which means taking in the forest atmosphere.1,2
Call it forest bathing, tree therapy, or nature therapy, the studies are in—getting into nature can change your life and improve your health. Let’s dig in!
- How Much Nature Time Do We Need?
A new study published in Scientific Reports finds two hours a week is minimum for getting nature’s health benefits.
Spending at least two hours (120 minutes) a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a new large-scale study.3 Those who spent more than 120 minutes in nature were significantly more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing than those who didn’t visit nature during a week’s time.
- Breathe Purified Forest Air
Plants in the wild put out numerous chemicals to signal other plants and ward off enemy microbes. These chemicals, called phytoncides, are thought to lower stress levels and increase focus.1
- Become a Giver, Not a Taker
One study found that those who regularly “bathed” in nature were more pro-social and focused on supporting others, while those who did not spend time in nature were more self-focused and self-centered.4 The group that spent more time in nature were also found to be more generous in their decision-making. This study suggests that nature immersion supports a more community-focused, giving mindset.
- Boost Creativity by 50%
In another study, after just a 4-day nature immersion, disconnected from technology, creativity and problem-solving skills were enhanced by a whopping 50%.5
- Get Smart in the Woods
In other studies of Attention Restoration Theory (ART), nature immersion was shown to boost executive processing and cognitive functions, such as selective attention, problem-solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking.5
- Lower Inflammation with Nature
The effects of forest bathing were measured by comparing inflammatory markers of two groups of ten healthy adults. One group was immersed in a city and the other group was immersed in nature—both for four days. The nature-immersed group saw reduced oxidative stress, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and less inflammatory markers, along with greater signs of energy and vigor compared to the city-immersed group.6
- Virtual Nature—It Works Too!
In another study, many of these nature immersion benefits were mimicked by exposing a group to a virtual reality nature experience. This suggests that if you cannot regularly expose yourself to nature, having pictures and murals of nature in your living environment may deliver some of the nature-immersion benefits.7
- Lower Stress Hormones
Studies find that being in nature has a specific effect on our fight-or-flight nervous system. In a meta-analysis of 971 studies on forest bathing, only two did not show lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone). All the rest showed significant reduction in stress hormones, which are linked to most age-related and degenerative health concerns.8
- One Study Summarized the Benefits of Being in Nature10
- Improved immune system function (increased natural killer cells/cancer prevention)
- Improved cardiovascular health (hypertension/coronary artery disease)
- Boosted respiratory system (allergies and respiratory disease)
- Decreased depression and anxiety (mood disorders and stress)
- Enhanced mental relaxation (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness)
- We Were Born to Be in Nature
Studies suggest humans have spent 99.99% of our time living in a natural environment, which we have clearly adapted to. In another review of some 52 studies, scientific data link being in nature to changes in brainwave activity, autonomic nervous system stress, endocrine (hormonal) activity, immune health, and mood, which leads researchers to conclude that Nature Therapy, as it is called in the West, will play an increasingly important role in preventative medicine, stress reduction, and technostress in the future.9