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7 Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature: A Natural Way to Celebrate Earth Day

Updated: Apr 26

sunshine peeking through the forest

Can you think of a time when you were in awe over something you saw in nature? Perhaps it was looking up at the trees in the Redwood Forest. Or maybe you spotted a natural waterfall after a heavy downpour. Or it could be that you witnessed fascinating behavior of wildlife in their natural environment.

For a moment, take a journey back to that time to feel the sensations in your body that you experienced in that awe-inspiring moment. Did your heart light up with joy? Did you smile? Were you overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and peace? Maybe you felt inspired and rejuvenated.

During that time, you may or may not have realized the subtle, yet powerful, force of nature. The natural world— from trees and flowers to wildlife and insects to mountains and the desert—can be mesmerizing and ignite a new life into us as we witness it. Feel-good neurotransmitters are released; our to-do lists, daily stressors, and routines disappear; and a natural curiosity arises, creating a child-like feeling of adventure and wonder. As we surrender to nature, we start to become whole again.

And, just to be clear, we don't need to travel anywhere to experience nature or immerse ourselves for a week to benefit from the healing effects of nature. We can listen to songbirds in our backyard, notice the life of the trees on our morning dog walk, or feel the soft spring breeze brush our face as we walk down the city streets. Nature is around us all the time, sharing her voice, aromas, and beauty. She's always communicating with us. It's up to us to take moments of pause to listen and observe. Those moments can be micro or macro. There's no time minimum or limit with nature. Whether it's one minute or one hour, we can immediately feel at ease through our connection with nature.

Health benefits of spending time in nature

It turns out that research supports the extraordinary sensations we feel through simple interactions with the natural environment. Its impact on us can be profound. We can experience positive physiological effects throughout our body and profound benefits to our brain, mind, and mood. Below you'll find seven health benefits of spending time in nature and seven ways to experience it.

Support cognition

Research suggests that being exposed to our natural outside environment can improve memory, cognition, and attention. It's theorized that it may be due to the stress reduction and also possibly due to nature's ability to restore our cognitive resources. And, great news — studies show that as little as 40 seconds of staring at a green space can be beneficial! Even the sounds of crickets chirping (my personal favorite way to fall asleep at night during the summertime) or waves crashing on the beach can benefit cognition.

Putting it into practice

During your next work day, try to take a one minute break several times throughout the day to stare out the window at a tree or take a short walk outside to breathe in the fresh air while noticing your natural surroundings.

woman smiling and walking outdoors

Increase happiness

One review revealed that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress. Another study looked at outcomes in more than 900,000 children, comparing those who live close to green spaces to those who are not exposed to green spaces. The researchers found that children who grew up close to green spaces had a reduced risk of depression, mood disorders, eating disorders and substance use later in life.

Putting it into practice

Spend 15 minutes of your day in a green space in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening. This can be at your local park, in your backyard, or walking along a tree lined street (take note of those trees!).

reading in the park

Restore circadian rhythm

Instead of scrolling on our phones, we can try strolling outside if we want to improve our sleep. Our natural circadian rhythm is tied to the natural cycles of sunlight. Blue light from phones and computers disrupt our internal clock and can create sleep disruptions. Natural light exposure can help to realign our circadian rhythms and shift melatonin levels to its appropriate time. Time outdoors may lead to better sleep and less insomnia.

Putting it into practice

Take a 10 minute walk outside in the morning as the sun rises to restore your body's natural rhythm.

woman and her dog staring at the sunrise

Reduce stress and anxiety

A reduction in stress is something we've all most likely experienced when immersed in nature's beauty. Spending time outdoors has been shown to alleviate stress, but how much time do you need to spend to achieve the stress-reduction benefits? Scientists set out to answer that question by observing over 20,000 people in the U.K. and found that two hours a week in nature had greater health and psychological well-being. There hasn't been enough research to make that an absolute guideline, but it's a good starting point.

Putting it into practice

Find a hobby you can take outdoors or take your gym workout to a local park!

practicing yoga outside

Create kindness

Nature might also help us to be kinder to other humans as well as the planet. One study looked at the behaviors of those who were exposed to nature videos compared to those who were not and found that those who watched nature videos were more cooperative with others and they made sustainable choices for the planet. Researchers theorize that this gentler, kinder behavior could be from spending time in nature or from experiencing feelings of awe which may be associated with generosity and giving.

Putting it into practice

Consider volunteering with a local organization that takes you outside. It can be a beach clean-up, tree planting, or wildlife conservation. Not only will the activities get you outdoors, but you'll also connect with like-minded people and perhaps even make some new friends!

beach clean up for Earth Day

Give a sense of purpose

Before we dive into this one, we need to define the term, eudaimonic. You may have heard of eudaimonic versus hedonic happiness. Hedonic means pursuing pleasure to achieve happiness. Eudaimonic means pursuing happiness by finding meaning and purpose. Self-fulfillment and self-improvement both contribute to this form of happiness. One meta-analysis (a review looking at several different studies to determine a conclusion based on the results of those studies) found that those who feel connected to nature have greater eudaimonic well-being. Sign me up!

Putting it into practice

If you have the time, try forest bathing! You'll most likely leave feeling spacious, inspired, and fulfilled.


Connect with your community

Community can refer to humans or non-humans in your environment. There are those who don't feel energized by connecting with a human community. What's interesting is that one study showed an increased sense of connection and overall well-being simply by connecting with nature, similar to what can be experienced by human connection. Whether it's connecting with other humans while exploring nature or simply connecting with the natural environment itself, nature may help to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Putting it into practice

The next time you are in nature, try to truly connect to the trees, birds, sky, air, and sounds around you. Engage all of your senses by noticing the aromas, listening deeply, and observing the intricate life within the trees from the leaves to the bark to the roots. Try to take this heightened sense of awareness, peace, and curiosity with you as you return to your home environment.

walk in nature

Practicing self-care and making the world a better place through nature

April is Earth Month and what better time of year than the spring to start an outside self-care practice. Take a moment to immerse in nature this week. Whether it’s letting your feet touch the ground in your backyard, visiting a local park for a picnic, hiking through a remote forest, or getting your hands dirty in the soil, taking some time in nature can create long-lasting physiological and mental health benefits that sooth the body, mind and soul. Getting involved with local organizations that are doing things to protect and restore nature is also a great way to get outside while connecting with your community and doing something wonderful for the planet.

Have you experienced something profound after spending time in nature? Please share your experience below!


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