BEING OUTDOORS AND MENTAL HEALTH
These days, we spend most of our time indoors, attached to TVs, computers and other interests. Yet, spending time outside in nature has a remarkable effect on us physically, mentally and spiritually. It gives us a sense of belonging, improves self-confidence and provides us with a broader sense of community.
Studies show that even mere images of nature can improve our attention span and natural scenes encourage the various parts of our brains to synchronize.
One study involved 12 male participants around the age of 22. Researchers analyzed their brains while they viewed images ranging from placid beach scenes to busy freeways. At the same time, participants listened to the sounds associated with both scenes, which are quite similar. Waves breaking on a beach and traffic moving on a freeway both produce a constant roar. However, our nature scenes produced significantly greater connectivity between the auditory cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. If you are not sure what that means, it’s simply that the results of the experiment supported the theory that viewing natural scenes benefits attention span and memory performance.
These findings are in line with the theory that natural environments are better at strengthening concentration because they provide a more consistent pattern of stimulation that requires less effort, as opposed to urban environments, which provide complex and often confusing stimulation.
Ways To Get Out More
Natural open spaces such as wilderness have been proven to have positive health effects on people and outdoor recreation reduces stress and anxiety. It also gives the mind time to rest and think. Doing things such as hiking in the mountains or open country increases your mental capacity for problem solving and for coming up with new ideas.
Our current lives are visually focused on the TV, computer monitors and tablets, or mobile phones. Because of advances in technology, we are becoming more desk-bound, resulting in our leisure time becoming more passive than ever before.
But our bodies are made to be active! So what can we do?
– One helpful way to get out of the office is to take a lunch break in open spaces such as parks. This enables you to put your work life in perspective, making you feel refreshed when you return to the job.
– Working outside can be relaxing and increases performance, so if your job allows it, find a shady place under a tree or umbrella with your laptop. And there are computers with a matte screen, even one specifically designed for indoor and outdoor use.
– Taking regular breaks and going for walks outdoors and even doing stretches outdoors all help the mind and body.
– Also, consider having committee meetings outside! Walking meetings are a great way to energize your workday while providing essential exercise. They can be used for brainstorming, creative discussion and problem solving.
How Nature Helps Us
We need to stretch, walk, run, lift and carry, but because of our inactive lives we lead, our joints have become stiff and our muscles and ligaments weak. But outdoor settings require activity. Hiking combines a sharpened sense of awareness of one’s surroundings with the need to take action to move through and be part of nature.
Being outdoors encourages us to use and develop all our senses and helps us to slow down to the speed of life that we’ve been biologically programmed for. Recreation and relaxation in nature can promote learning and personal growth, nourish the imagination, and provide physical and mental restoration. They also soothe the spirit, sharpen the senses and focus the thoughts.
The instinct to unite with the earth is in our genes. We have an innate attraction to nature, whether it’s in the backyard tending a flower bed or hiking in the mountains. Taking the time out to soak ourselves in natural surroundings bonds us to our own natural presence on the planet. A visit to the countryside can bring a person in touch with the created universe in a way that’s different from exposure to the artificial environment of a large town or city.
Appreciation of nature can produce compassion, wisdom, guidance and inner peace. It can be rejuvenating and healing. There are places in nature that can act as a healing agent for the soul. Being there gives a sense of connectedness, meaning and purpose. Plants and animals are united, and everything coexists without the need for external involvement. It’s a structure that has worked since the beginning of time, which provides reliability and consistency to use as a model for life.
Being aware that humans are a part of this larger scheme can bring enlightenment and delight. For many, respect and enjoyment of nature can lead to greater spirituality and gratitude toward our Creator.
In a world full of social constraints, standards of behavior and the demands of others, nature provides us with an appreciation and awareness that the world is vibrant, beautiful and purposeful and to be enjoyed.
Quick Facts About Nature
– Researchers in Japan found that being in nature can help lower blood pressure, ward off depression, relieve back stress and prevent cancer.
– Being in nature makes people happier. Studies have shown that being close to a water source lifts people’s mood. Gazing at clouds and greenery has also been shown to improve mental well-being.
– Spending regular time in natural surroundings can help strengthen eyesight and improve immunity, and has been shown to speed up recovery during times of illness.
– Exercising in nature has also proven to have benefits over exercising in more artificial settings.
-By Julie Guirgis