Main Street News

How Nature Benefits Our Overall Wellness

By Published On: January 28th, 2024

Have you ever wondered why you feel so much better when you’re outside? 

With many of us living our lives behind screens – whether it be phones, computers, or tablets – we are rarely able to get outside. 

Too much time spent indoors and behind screens can impact not only our eyesight, but can also cause us to feel overstimulated and stressed. If you sit at a desk all day, chances are the muscles in your hips and legs are often tight and causing you pain. 

Before we get into the benefits of nature, let’s quickly run through how being indoors and glued to a screen impacts our mental and physical health. 

What does staring at a screen all day do to us? 

We hear that the blue light emitted from the screens that we look at all day is bad for us, but is that really the case? 

The truth is that blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and it’s found in the sun, too. However, it is the light with the shortest wavelength and the highest energy – they’re only slightly longer and less powerful than UV waves. 

The sun is the biggest source of blue light. However, we are being exposed to more blue light than ever due to the use of fluorescent lights, LED screens, etc. 

Blue light “boosts alertness, helps memory and brain function, and elevates mood. It regulates your body’s natural wake and sleep cycle (circadian rhythm). Sunlight is also important for the growth and development of eyes and vision in children.” 

While recent research doesn’t indicate that blue light poses a serious threat to eye health, it can cause eye strain – which can cause headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain – fatigue, and impact your circadian rhythm. 

More than just our eyesight, increased screen time is directly correlated with increases in stress and anxiety. Some of the physical and mental effects of screen time include an increase in depression, anxiety, and brain fog. 

The good news is that spending some time out in nature each week can help combat all of this. 

So, how much time do I need to spend outside? 

According to Yale Environment 360, published by the Yale School of Environment, we need approximately 120 minutes of time spent in nature spread across an entire week. Doesn’t seem too unreasonable. 

If you take a 15 minute walk on your lunch break every day, you’re already more than halfway there. 

But let’s get to the science behind why we feel so much better when we spend ample time in nature first. 

Nature aids your thinking 

Nature helps us improve our cognitive abilities, including thinking and reasoning. UC Davis Health states that “when we’re in urban environments or the office all day, we can experience sensory overload, resulting in tension and mental fatigue. Studies have known that our minds and bodies relax in a natural setting. This increases feelings of pleasure and can help us concentrate and focus more effectively.”

A study from The National Library of Medicine states that exposure to natural environments is associated with mental health benefits including lower levels of stress and reduced symptomology for depression and anxiety.

The study states that, “people exposed to urban environments are forced to use their attention to overcome the effects of constant stimulation (described as hard fascination) and this in turn over time induces cognitive fatigue. In contrast, natural environments benefit from what Kaplan’s term ‘soft fascination,’ which refers to scene content that automatically captures attention while simultaneously eliciting feelings of pleasure.” 

Some of the other important features of nature include the ability for people to be away from the daily demands that elicit stress, as well as the ability for people to feel connected to the environment in which they are in. 

So next time you can’t figure out how to answer that email or you’re feeling overwhelmed by the screens that you stare at all day, take a quick walk outside and get some fresh air. 

Nature can improve your physical wellness 

In addition to boosting cognitive abilities, being out in nature can also improve your physical wellness. Being in nature frequently leads to some type of exercise – whether it be walking, hiking, biking, kayaking, etc. – which improves overall physical health.

Studies have also shown that being in nature can reduce cortisol levels, which spike when we experience stress and anxiety which many times, can occur at work. 

Of course, spending time outside in the sunshine also increases your vitamin D levels, which help support your immune system, blood cells, and bones. 

You may find that you sleep better when you spend more time outside, since regular exposure to the sun can help regulate your circadian rhythm. 

Final thoughts 

120 minutes outside per week seems daunting at first, but if you can schedule just 15-20 minutes to be outside each day, you can easily hit that goal – and your mental and physical well-being will thank you for it.