Whether it was going on solo bike rides, long walks with the family or socially-distanced hikes with old friends: many found peace and comfort in nature during the pandemic. Is this a coincidence or does science have something to say about this?
Well, it turns out that research reveals that being outdoors has many mental and physical health benefits. The plethora of perks from being outdoors ties back to what scientists call the ‘biophilia hypothesis’. The term ‘biophilia’ was used by German-born American psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), which is the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. So, as a culmination of evolution, humans have sought experiences in nature to increase our overall well-being and physical health.Where do we even begin when it comes to the benefits being in nature has on our mental health? Stuck on today’s Wordle or crossword? Being outside has been found to improve one’s creative thinking as your prefrontal cortex has a moment to dive into what psychologists call ‘involuntary attention’. Entering this state of mind allows our mind to explore new depths of our prefrontal cortex as we aren’t necessarily focusing on something in particular. Sitting at your computer reading emails all day can overload our prefrontal cortex. As the region of the brain involved in multitasking, this high demand reduces our ability to focus, create new ideas, and think deeply. Nature provides the escape our brain oh-so desperately needs to function at its highest capacity.
The benefits don’t stop there. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation found that just a quick five minutes outside is shown to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase the ability to focus (even in children with ADHD), accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy level, and improve sleep.
Additional benefits include:
- Back in 2005, a cost-benefit study in Lincoln, Nebraska found that for every $1 invested in trails for physical activity led to nearly $3 in direct medical benefits.
- Breathing phytoncides, the airborne chemicals produced by plants, increases our white blood cell levels which can help us fight off disease and infection.
- More time in the sun produces hydrogen peroxide in our T cells, which stimulates our white blood cells to fight off viruses more efficiently, as found by Georgetown University Medical Center.
Reflecting on the powers of nature and the impacts it has on our physical and mental health, what steps can we take to protect this magic? Here are a few tips we have to get you started:
- Vote! - Voting is one of the best ways to speak up for what you believe in. Keep up to date with your local elections here.
- Take the Climate Action Pledge! - If you are concerned about the serious risks that climate change poses for present and future generations in Eagle County, take the Climate Action Pledge. Together we can meet our goal to reduce Eagle County carbon pollution by 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. Help us to #BeBetterTogether.
- Participate in a local clean up! - Join in with local community members to clean up your community. Check the Vail Daily with any clean ups coming soon near you.
Amelia Kovacs is the Sustainability Programs Associate at Walking Mountains Science Center. You can find her taking advantage of the benefits of nature through skiing, soccer, hiking, and birding.