The Italian actress, Eleonora Duse once said, “If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
Nature has a way of reconnecting us with ourselves, whereas indoor lighting, re-circulated air and restricted spaces have a way of depleting us. Now a new study has shown that people who spend two hours or more outdoors every week are 20 percent more likely to be satisfied with their lives than people who are almost always inside.
The study in Nature Scientific Reports says you don’t need to be outdoors for a two hour block – you can spread the two hours out. You can spend 15 to 20 minutes a day outside, or you can go on a one hour walk on the weekend, and then just opt for 10 minutes outdoor time on the other days.
How was the survey done?
For the survey, the English researchers recruited almost 20,000 people and surveyed them regularly over a year. The research found that there was an improvement in life satisfaction with 120 minutes spent outdoors, however there was no major improvement in satisfaction with three or four hours outside.
This measureable increase of 20 per cent in life satisfaction is substantial. People who do regular exercise report similar levels of happiness, as do people who live in wealthy neighbourhoods.
The article is titled ‘Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing’. It does not recommend that you have to do set activities outside, such as exercising, you just have to be outdoors. You can drink coffee alone outside, or have a BBQ with friends in a park – it doesn’t matter what you do, but you just have to be out in nature.
Are adult Australians getting enough time outside?
There is no data on the internet about the amount time adults spend outside. However I did look at research from the industry group, Turf Australia, which found Australian children under 12 spend an average of more than 16 hours a week or 2.3 hours a day in front of a screen, but only 1.2 hours a day outside. If children are only getting eight-and-a-half hours, what are our chances as adults of clocking up six hours?
Winter is a time when we tend to avoid extended stretches outside. The weather is hardly appealing. What activities can you do to spend more time outside? How about walking some of the way to work? Park 4km away and walk to the office? Or even taking your morning coffee in a park? On the weekends, go for a bike ride with your spouse. How about eating lunch in a park?
Other studies have found people need outside time
Other studies have also found that being in green spaces is healthy. Researchers at Stanford University found that people who walk for 90 minutes in nature, not on concreted roads “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression”. The 2015 study found that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety and rumination (focused attention on negative aspects of oneself), as well as more positive emotions, such as happiness.
A University of Utah study reached a similar conclusion. Psychologist David Strayer said nature had a calming effect on human stress levels. “Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines,” he said. “They’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.”
Last year the University of Derby and the British Wildlife Trusts launched a 30-day nature challenge for people in the United Kingdom. Participants who agreed to be in nature for 30 minutes every day showed significant increases in feelings of happiness and healthiness. “Our findings suggest that connection to nature may provide people with resilience to meet the challenges of everyday life, while also facilitating exercise, social contact and a sense of purpose,” said the researchers. Spending time in nature also reduces blood pressure and can help you live longer.
Nature linked to improved memory
Several studies show that nature walks have memory-promoting effects. In one study, University of Michigan students were given a brief memory test then divided into two groups. One group took a walk around an arboretum, and the other took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and did the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20 per cent better than the first time. The ones who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve.
Another study found that students sent into the forest for two nights had lower levels of cortisol – a hormone often used as a marker for stress – than those who spent that time in the city.
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may all be eased by some time in the great outdoors – especially when that’s combined with exercise.
One study found that walks in the forest were associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and another found that outdoor walks could be “useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments” for major depressive disorder.
Nature boasts self-esteem and mood
“Every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood,” found an analysis of 10 earlier studies about so-called “green exercise,” and “the mentally ill had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements.” The presence of water (such as streams or waterfalls) made the positive effects even stronger.
Yet another study found a decrease in both heart rate and levels of cortisol in subjects in the bush when compared to those in the city. “Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy,” they concluded.
In one study, students who spent time in the forest had lower levels of inflammation than those who spent time in the city. In another, elderly patients who had been sent on a weeklong trip into the forest showed reduced signs of inflammation as well as some indications that the walks had a positive effect on their hypertension.
One thing that can help get your mind back into shape is exposing it to health environments, which, research has found, generally means the nature. Studies have also found that natural beauty evokes feelings of awe, which is one of the surest ways to experience a mental pick-me-up.
Get out there and enjoy time in nature!
A view of nature out of a window is good for you. Among office workers, the sight of nature out a window is associated with lower stress and higher job satisfaction. A study found that people’s mental energy bounced back when they looked at pictures or photos of nature. That really does go to show that a picture paints a thousand words, but I think that nothing beats the real deal.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.