I’ve never seen my children so happy than during summer vacation. Taking strolls through the woods on hiking trails, trekking along rivers and lakes, fishing, bicycling, swimming, shooting sports, archery, paddleboarding and kayaking are some of the outdoor activities they especially enjoy partaking in during the summer months. Our eldest daughter’s birthday is near Christmas, and getting her friends together for celebration is difficult to schedule around holiday family happenings. So, we decided to arrange a half-birthday party in late June this year and invited all of her close friends to join in some merriment out-of-doors. The smiles on those kids’ faces reflect the carefree elation many experience when spending time outdoors. For whatever reasons, nature just makes us feel good.
The American Heart Association says that spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. We all have stress of some level in our lives, no matter how hard we try to manage it or ignore it, it’s there. We have schedules to maintain, deadlines to meet, and expectations resonating and weighing on our consciousness constantly. Now, I am no mental health professional, but if you’re feeling a tinge of the blues or overwhelmed as some of us do from time to time, then nature may just be the best prescription for what ails you.
When I start feeling disconnected, I ask myself, “How much time have you spent in nature lately?” We live in the information age, when we can set our thermostats, order dinner and stream movies and television shows right from the comfort and security of our own homes, oftentimes without having to even leave our couches. Even though we are located in the beautiful Berkshires with gorgeous mountain views, breathtaking sunsets and access to an abundance of outdoor activities, those of us who reside here year-round can take all that surrounds us for granted.
Numerous scientific studies have shown that spending time in nature benefits our mental, physical and emotional health. Spending time outside is good for all of us. A recent study conducted in England published in the journal Scientific Reports found that spending two hours per week in nature (i.e. woodland, park, and beach) gives a positive boost to health and wellbeing to people of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation states that exposure to forests and trees boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy level and improves sleep. They reference a plethora of research studies casting light on how spending time outdoors and in forests makes us healthier.
In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined a term for these benefits named shinrin-yoku, meaning taking in nature’s atmosphere or “forest bathing.” Whatever you call it – forest-bathing, ecotherapy, mindfulness in nature, vitamin N, green time or the wilderness cure – people benefit from journeying into natural spaces. You can add a daily walk on a local hiking trail to your regime, go on a bike ride instead of hitting the gym for your cardio, or skip the big resort for your next vacation and go camping instead. Taking time to peacefully reflect while sitting on a park bench or lazily sunbathe on a sandy beach can help stimulate our senses in ways we never imagined.
Again, I am not a medical professional, and if you suffer from serious illness be sure to consult with your doctor before engaging in any activity. But I have experienced some of the previous mentioned benefits from being outside in nature for periods of time. So, the next time you’re feeling a little off, anxious, or down-in-the-dumps, get out to feel better.
Stephanie DuPont is on the board of directors for the Lee Sportsmen’s Association and a columnist for the Berkshire Record. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.