Want a short-cut to wellbeing that helps you relax and boost productivity? Get outside!
Time spent outdoors results in benefits to your health. After just 5 minutes your heart rate slows, facial muscles relax and activity in the frontal lobes of the brain begin to quieten. These benefits extend throughout the day resulting in increased productivity and creativity.
Nature serves as a welcome reprieve from the constant stimuli and countless demands of our fast-paced modern world. Research into the benefits of nature has found that as little as 60 minutes a week spent outside prevented depression, the scent of pine trees can strengthen your immune system, and that listening to birdsong or focusing on repetitive visual patterns (e.g. trees, flowers, coastlines) prompts the brain to increase alpha waves that make you feel more alert and calm. Further, there is evidence to suggest that walking amongst living trees and animals for an hour and a half, can result in feeling more connected in relationships and less preoccupied with personal issues.
Why are you putting off getting outside then? It might be because of two reasons:
You tend to make a forecasting error and undervalue how good you will feel in nature or
You don’t pay attention while you are in nature e.g. hurrying through a park on the way to work, multi-task by making a phone call when walking the dog.
Importantly you must pay attention to your surroundings and the way you feel during your time in nature in order to fully reap the benefits.
What does this mean for you? Perhaps you are a city dweller who doesn’t necessarily have easy access to bushland, beaches or mountains in your urban environment. Good news, you don’t need to be in the remote wilderness to benefit from nature.
An easy way to pay attention to your surroundings is to connect with your senses by noticing (and even naming) what you can see, hear, feel, and smell. Here are some ideas of how to do this: -Lie on the grass and watch the clouds
-Feel the breeze on your skin
-Listen to the birds
-Notice patterns in a leaf
-Smell a flower and notice the intricate visual details
-Feel your bare feet on a patch of grass or in the soil
-Breathe deeply and notice what the fresh air feels like flowing in and out of your body
-Stare up at the stars and moon
Awakening our ‘sensory’ brain brings us into the present moment, and allows our ‘thinking’ brain to have a rest which promotes restoration. When planning how to get your nature fix consider actions that are accessible such as going for a walk around your neighbourhood, eating your lunch under a tree, working next to a window where you have natural light and even getting an indoor plant for your desk (yes, research shows that even this can lift your mood). If you have more time, say on a weekend, picnic with family, walk the dog, bush walk or hike, go camping, or go swimming at the beach.
In light of this modern research it might be worth reconsidering how much time you spend in nature. I know where I’ll be this weekend, getting my Nature Fix!
This article is inspired by Florence Williams, Journalist and Author of ‘The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative’. Available in print and on audible and kindle.