The Science Behind Why Nature Is Good For Your Soul

The best medicine.

By Lauren Zielinski, MSN, CNM
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Imagine yourself in your very favorite place deep in nature. Perhaps a cool breeze is shaking aspen leaves as you soak in the mountain views and smell pine on a beautiful hike…or maybe you’re on a white sandy beach, waves crashing in and out and you can feel the warmth of the sun beating down on your body, the smell of sea salt in the air.

For most of us, just visualizing nature brings a sense of calm and quiet – it’s something indescribably serene, encourages a deep sigh and instant relaxation. It’s no coincidence that many guided meditations feature nature as a main visualization point.

This is all quite intuitive to most human beings; we crave nature. This instinctual yearning to be out in the wild is well-researched and proven to be deeply powerful and healing for our minds, bodies and souls. Scientific research on “eco-therapy” and “nature-bathing” is fascinating and validates every nature nerds suspicion that the outdoors are truly necessary for sanity. Read on to learn about why you might consider finding some more time to kick it outside.

image by julie pointer adams

nature, tree, get outside, travelimage by kristen kilpatrick

Nature Reduces Stress.

Research in Japan led the forefront on nature therapy in the 90’s. Scientists theorized that since society has become industrialized, societal stress associated with living outside of a natural environment has increased and that by placing humans back in more natural environments, we may be able to fight this “developed stress.” Since the initial studies began, many follow up studies have been replicated over time proving the same exact and impressive outcomes: when human beings spend time in nature their levels of stress decrease.

Stress was measured by looking at levels of salivary cortisol and adrenaline (hormones measured in saliva that are released when a human is stressed), heart rate and blood pressure. Stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate all decreased after people spent time outside in green spaces over a variety of different studies, many using different methodologies and study designs. Most often, people just spent time walking in nature (often for as little time as 15 minutes) and their physiologic functions associated with stress went down.

nature is good for your soul, nature heals, nature, outside, get outside, shiva roseimage by kimberly geneivieve

Nature Helps with Depression.

Research has shown that using nature as mental health therapy is surprisingly effective. While more studies need to be done, the initial outcomes have been fascinating. In one study conducted by a mental health charity organization called Mind, depressed patients were split up and asked to walk either in nature vs walking through a shopping center. 71% of patients who walked in nature reported decreased depressive symptoms versus 41% who walked in the shopping center. Should we redefine the old saying “take a hike” ??

hiking, hike, outsideimage by by outdoor voices

Nature Reduces Pain.

A prominent researcher in the field of nature therapy research, Roger Ulrich performed studies on patients spending time recovering from heart surgeries in the intensive care units of hospitals. Post-operative patients stuck in hospital beds who were shown mere images of trees and water required less pain medication and reported lower levels of anxiety during their recovery than those who were not. That’s powerful stuff. (Cue me printing out mountain and tree photos to put EVERYWHERE).

plants, pots, garden, outsideimage by julie pointer adams

Nature Calms Kiddos with ADHD.

Let’s be real, I’d be shocked if this research didn’t translate for adults with ADHD too… Little ones with diagnoses of ADHD were shown to display less ADHD behavior after spending time in a green space outside, than those children who spent time outside but in concrete heavy environments. (Cue every mom with an “active” child zillow-ing homes in the countryside).

nature, outside, dinner party, outsideimage by chloe crespi

It Basically Heals Your Entire Life.

The research goes on! If you want to dig deeper into some of the scientific literature you can dig here, in a journal article published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that reviews all of the major recent studies on nature therapy. To sum it up, time spent in nature also decreased high blood pressure in male and female patients who were diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure disease), decreased blood sugar levels in diabetics, and helps heal weakened immune systems relative to chemotherapy and other immunological diseases, by increasing immune cell growth and development.  These are all kind of a big deal considering high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer are three of the key players in morbidity and mortality in the United States.

plants, get outside, hammock, nature, patio, garden goalsimage by julie pointer adams

How Can I Get Some of This?

1. Take Walks in Public Parks near your home…Regularly!

2. Perform a quick google search of the nearest state or national parks nearby and make a fun weekend trip of it. Camping, cabins or glamping…Just get out there!

3. Decorate your house with more plants, more wooden furniture and diffuse essential oils made from plants. All three of these are forms of PROVEN nature therapy!