Imagine going to the doctor and being told you were at a high risk of stroke, high blood pressure, or asthma. Now picture your doctor prescribing spending time in nature to cure it.
It seems far-fetched, but studies have shown a direct correlation between spending time in green spaces and living a healthier, happier life—which in turn can mean a longer one. Here’s how nature affects your health, and a few methods for self-remedy outside.
How nature affects your health
You know that you should eat a healthy diet, get a good night’s sleep, move, drink more water, and so on, but you can also improve your health by spending time in nature.
A study concluded that it takes just 120 minutes a week to make a difference in your life. When exposed to nature for two hours a week—whether consecutively or throughout little snippets of time—people reported feeling happier and healthier. Not only that, but significant amounts of time in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. (There’s even evidence that spending time in sunlight can help decrease heart disease as well.)
While no study has yet pinpointed the exact cocktail of how and why this works—is it because you’re more active, for example—the conclusion is that time spent outside can help contribute to your mental and physical health and therefore your longevity. It can help soothe, restore, reconnect, and recenter you, as well as heal you, scientifically speaking.
Unique ways to engage with nature
Just by stepping outside, you’ve already started your natural “prescription,” whether that be time spent at a park with your family or a long walk with your dog. You can divide your time outdoors up into 20 to 30-minute sessions over 5 days, or you could spend two hours kicking around a soccer ball with your kids. You can even take your work-from-home workstation and bring it outside for one or two meetings if applicable to your situation. However you make time for it, your outdoor time “counts.” If you’ve run out of ideas or are looking to get a little creative, try:
Meditating Outdoors: Studies have shown that both communing with nature and mindfulness help improve mental health, so why not combine them? If you meditate, do breathing exercises, or try taking your yoga practice outdoors.
Bathing outdoors: While this can be in the literal sense—outdoor showers are popular for a reason—you can also consider immersion-based bathing, such as forest baths or sound baths. Forest baths, also known in Japanese culture as Shinrin-yoku, are simply the act of immersing yourself in the full sensory experience of being in a forest. A sound bath is a similar sensory experience, focused solely on listening to resonant sounds.
Grounding: Simple in concept, grounding is just the act of putting your bare feet in a (preferably moist) environment, such as damp grass, a lake, or wet sand. The practice is also known as earthing and can allegedly help with blood pressure, circulation, inflammation, and more.
Gardening: Looking for an absolute one-two longevity punch? Then get into gardening. Gardening provides time in nature, exercise, and even a mental boost: studies also show that having hobbies in old age can help with your health. Starting young can only add to that.
Of course, none of your outdoor activities need to be fancy or have fancy names to be beneficial, as science points to any time outdoors is better than time spent indoors. The more time you can spend surrounded by green space or nature—bonus points if you’re doubling down on spending that time with friends or loved ones, as the science tying healthy relationships to longevity is strong—the healthier you could be, and in turn, the longer you could live.