After finishing my finals last semester, heading home for break I had only one thing on my mind: hiking. After the constant stress and stimulation of the end of the semester, I knew that what I needed to recover was not to sleep until noon for a month, but to get outside into the woods and be quiet with the world. Hiking has always been my coping strategy for life, and recently I learned why.
In December, National Geographic published an article by Florence Williams explaining the mental benefits of being in nature. Various scientists have conducted studies; some looking at brain waves, some comparing people walking in the city with people walking in the woods, and some on the mental health of citizens with access to green spaces. All studies are pointing in the same direction, that time in nature decreases stress, and less stress has a multitude of health benefits. Scientists are finding that time spent in nature not only decreases stress hormones, but decreases heart rate, improves mood, attention span, creativity, and problem solving.
Although the movement is slow, medical professionals are starting to take the nature effect into consideration, prescribing to patients that they spend more time outside. Hospitals are also incorporating nature into their design, which is helping patients heal faster.
In an age where we seem most disconnected with nature, maybe these findings are just what we need to push us back into nature. As scientist David Strayer states, “at the end of the day…we come out in nature not because the science says it does something to us, but because of how it makes us feel.” The scientific proof might help us get into nature, but that wont be what makes us stay, the rejuvenation and joy that we find there will keep us coming back season after season.