The typical Australian has ‘broken up’ with the great outdoors, with ABC News reporting that the average adult spends 90% of their time indoors. The situation is no better for kids. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, some 56.8% of young people are glued to screens for over 10 hours per week, enjoying a little over an hour of outdoor play. Spending time in nature is vital for human health. Not only is the great outdoors the perfect playground in which to get your heart racing, but also the ideal place in which to boost your mental health and focus. Discover a few good scientific reasons why it does indeed pay to make nature an essential component of your day-to-day life.
Nature vs Stress
The number of Australians battling stress has risen significantly in recent years, with a 2018 Stress and Wellbeing survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society showing that 26% of Australian face stress regularly. Chronic stress is a trigger for a bevy of mental conditions – everything from anxiety to depression – so keeping it at bay is key. The good news is that nature is an easily accessible, free, and highly effective way to do so. Researchers at the Loyola University Health System found that a walk in a natural area significantly lowers stress hormone, cortisol, which can trigger anxiety and depression. Researchers at the University of East Anglia, meanwhile, have found that living close to nature and spending time outdoors has mental benefits – including that of stress reduction – and it also boosts our physical health in a number of ways, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The Great Outdoors and Depression
If improving your mental health is on the agenda, why not take your cue from scientific findings from Japan? In this country, known for its high stress levels and tense employees, the practice of forest bathing (shinrin–yoku) has been proven to be a powerful way to battle depression and stress. A study published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found involved 155 participants, 37% of which had depressive tendencies. After spending time in a forest, scientists found, people with symptoms of depression scored significantly higher on the profile of mood states (POMS) test than they had before this activity. To practise forest bathing yourself, head to a forest or beautiful green area and allow yourself to simply ‘be’. Open your senses to the beautiful sights, textures, and sounds around you. Some of the effects you may note after this experience include recovery from stress, greater focus, and greater vitality. The experts at HIF recommend spending half an hour a day in a natural area to make the most of its health benefits. Some ways to do so include enjoying lunch outside, having a walking meeting, or taking in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset!
The Sounds of Nature Help Us Relax
Most people would agree that the site of a glimmering sea, majestic mountain, or lush walkway almost instantly instils a special sense of peace. However, another reason why nature heals, is its sounds! A study undertaken at the University of Sussex found that natural sounds affect the bodily symptoms that control the ‘fight or flight response’, promoting relaxation and wellbeing. They can be especially useful if you are battling anxiety, since panic attacks can ensue when the ‘fight or flight’ is invoked during times when we aren’t actually in imminent danger.
There are so many reasons why the average Australian needs to make nature a bigger priority in their daily life. Nature lowers stress hormone levels in a powerful way, thus making it easier to weather life’s challenges and vicissitudes. To enjoy nature’s benefits you don’t have to spend too much time outdoors. Aim for half an hour a day and start reaping the benefits immediately.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.