August – The month of sun, holidays, BBQs and the great outdoors, but being outside does more than just top up your tan – it can literally change your life!
Studies have shown that spending time in nature decreases obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin. Researchers compared the reported rumination (deep thought) of participants hiking through either an urban or a natural environment and found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.
Another study showed similar effects with research participants backpacking through nature for four days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology. When asked to perform tasks requiring creative thinking and complex problem solving, their performance was improved by 50%.
So why is this important?
We seem to be in an era where (for most people), we’re spending too much time staring at screens, too much time sitting down, and in general too much time bathing in the soft, blue glow of technology as we turn our brains to mush and slowly kill ourselves with inactivity. We go to work, sit staring at a computer all day, barely get a lunch break and then shuffle onto trains like sardines packed into a can, before crashing into bed for a night of broken, sleep deprived “rest”. It’s no wonder we see more and more people, both in society and in the clinic, that are stressed out of their minds and suffering from depression, anxiety or reliant on medication.
Unfortunately these people would, in our modern day society, be considered to have issues connecting, however really, its the other way round – they have problems disconnecting!
Now it would be wrong of me to slate technology too much, not only because I personally use and appreciate it so much, but also because I’m saving it for another future article.
The problem is that we are quickly becoming addicted to screens, and given that it’s unrealistic to completely disconnect in this ever evolving digital age, we need to learn to manage it better – for the sake of our HEALTH!
A 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology with a 16% decrease in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), as well as decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. In short, the benefits of being outside are numerous but in summary, the main benefits are:
- Proven to stop obsessive, negative thoughts ruminating in the brain
- Boosts creative problem solving
- Great, inexpensive exercise
- Increase brain power
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Prevent disease and prolong life by increasing positive emotions.
- Increase Cancer Fighting Cells
- Balance Blood Pressure
- Help Prevent Memory Loss and Degeneration Linked to Alzheimer’s
One of the scariest statistics I came across when researching this article, was that in the U.K. alone, the average person spends 90% (that’s 21.5 HOURS!!!) indoors.
Imagine if someone locked you up for 21.5 hours everyday – you’d be climbing the walls, and yet we seemingly, (semi) voluntarily do this to ourselves.
So get outside at lunch, go for a walk somewhere green after work and especially try at weekends to “connect” again with nature and you might just find yourself feeling a little better…
… If you wanted to go one step further, you could even try things like a nature retreat, or forest bathing, to really detach from technology and spend some time getting back to nature.
Dr Mark Fairclough