At Sky Meadow Retreat we’re so grateful to be able to cultivate a peaceful space for folks to reconnect to nature and to themselves. As the biologist E. O. Wilson once wrote, “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.” The importance of getting outside is not exactly breaking news, but it’s nice to see scientific studies confirming what collective wisdom has known for millennia. There are many benefits of nature that we enjoy when we make time to step outside. It really is good for you!
Benefits of Nature
Here are just 5 of the many mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of nature you can enjoy at Sky Meadow — or anywhere else you’re able to get outside!
1. Nature reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.
One of the many benefits of nature is the boost it gives to mental health. A slow walk outside makes for a wonderful mindfulness activity or form of meditation. By focusing on the natural world around you as you walk, you can more easily put away your to-do list. The natural world provides a helpful lens to be more grounded in the present moment. This form of mindfulness practice can be useful for just about anyone, especially those who struggle with invasive thoughts during a more “traditional” seated meditation.
2. Nature provides opportunities for joyful exercise and beneficial movement.
We all know that moving our bodies is good for our health and wellbeing. However, many of us struggle to maintain a consistent exercise routine. Whether through running, hiking, swimming, boating, biking, or any other type of outdoor activity, exercise can feel much less like a chore when it’s outside! Even when motivation isn’t a factor, many people living busy lives may struggle to find time for thoughtful movement. When all else fails, a 30-minute stroll outside can do a world of good! It’s a low-impact activity that is accessible to many people and requires little planning or special equipment.
3. Nature fosters feelings of connectedness with the world and each other.
One study found that its participants who spent time outdoors gardening, reported feelings of greater connectedness. They described increased feelings of community and belonging, and a reduced sense of isolation. Moreover, by using the metaphor of the garden to consider their own struggles, they were able to gain insight into their illness and experience greater calm. It’s hardly surprising that outdoor activities provide a rich symbolic lens through which to think about our lives more broadly. By pondering the ways of nature in a thoughtful, hands-on way, we can gain greater insight into ourselves and our own struggles. The mysterious ways that nature works together (although not always clean or pretty) remind us that we are not alone. We, too, are part of this complex and vibrant web of life.
4. Nature boosts feelings of happiness and calm.
One study in Frontiers of Psychology looked at the effect of time spent outside on cortisol levels. Participants’ levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stressful situations and the “fight or flight” response) were measured before and after nature outings. (They were also instructed not to exercise beforehand or engage in distractions like social media or conversations.) The study found that as little as 20 minutes outside produced a significant drop in participants’ cortisol levels. By lowering our levels of this stress hormone, nature helps us feel more calm. It gently captures our attention (vs. snatching it through constant notifications and beeps), thereby producing an effect some researchers call “soft fascination.” It’s a form of gentle sensory stimulation that helps you to feel neither bored nor frazzled — just centered.
5. Nature opens up new hobbies and passions.
There are so many outdoor activities to enjoy while soaking in the benefits of nature! The more active, adventurous types among us may gravitate towards hiking, rock climbing or biking. Others may desire a deep dive into foraging, gardening and even mushroom identification. Feeling artistic? Forage materials to make beautiful wreaths and crafts for your home! Nature not only gets us up and moving, but provides countless opportunities to learn new skills, challenge our minds and nurture our creative sides. Giving ourselves a break from constant immersion in technology may also directly benefit our creativity.
How much time do you need to spend to enjoy these benefits?
In today’s fast-paced world, where so many are feeling the pressure on their time and resources, it can be a challenge to get outside. It may be encouraging to know that you don’t have to pick up extreme hiking or spend every waking moment outdoors to reap the benefits of nature. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that those who spent a minimum of 120 minutes per week outside reported greater physical health and overall well-being. This breaks down to just under 20 minutes per day! The study found that these benefits seemed to peak between 200-300 minutes, with no discernible change above 300 minutes. It also didn’t matter whether the time outside was continuous or broken up into shorter increments.
Dr. Rachel Hoffman, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, recommends something she calls the 20-5-3 rule. This stands for 20 minutes outside at least 3x/week, at least 5 hours outside per month, and at least 3 days fully unplugged per year. (She also notes that using one’s cell phone during this time seems to negate the benefits.) The wilder the wilderness, the better.