Knowing the benefits of nature on our health is so important, especially in the current climate. In fact, a study by Zoopla found 57% of Brits say their mental health has been impacted negatively by the amount of time they’ve spent indoors recently. And it’s one of the reasons why spending time in nature has been dubbed the ‘green prescription’. That’s because growing evidence suggests it can be just as powerful as medicine, especially when it comes to mental health.
So, there’s never been a better time to get outside – it really can do you good. You don’t even need a pair of the best women’s walking shoes (opens in new tab). Just doing something as simple as sitting in a garden can help you heal. And it’s backed up by science. A US study in the 1980s first discovered the power of green spaces when patients with a view of nature from their hospital bed recovered faster than those looking at a brick wall.
“An ever-growing body of research is showing that spending time amongst greenery is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness,” says functional medicine certified health coach Suzy Glaskie (opens in new tab).
“It’s deeply therapeutic. Plus, it has immediate, positive effects on how we deal with stress (opens in new tab), blood pressure, heart rate, and immune system. It makes us feel energised, encourages us to move our bodies, clears our heads and boosts our creativity. It even improves our memory function.”
The good news? You really don’t have to go on a five-mile walk to reap benefits. “Spending just 20 minutes in a park has been shown in recent research to be enough to improve wellbeing,” adds Suzy. “While another study found that just two hours in nature every week helps you to feel healthy and more satisfied with your lifestyle.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of nature on your health...
Benefits of nature: How fresh air helps your health
The benefits of nature and fresh air can help improve a whole range of issues, these include:
- Gut health
“Vitamin D deficiency and low gut microbial diversity could lead to a rise in certain allergies and some autoimmune diseases,” says gut microbiologist Dr Kate Stephens at OptiBac Probiotics (opens in new tab). “So, getting those sunshine hours in (weather permitting) is important for a healthy gut.”
- Mental health
Have a pair of the best waterproof hiking boots (opens in new tab)? You're in luck. “Research has found that hiking and other outdoor pursuits can help people feel less depressed, angry or confused,” says Gaby Pilson, an outdoor educator at Outforia (opens in new tab). “Plus, there’s a direct link between spending time outside and positive recovery rates in those with mental health issues.”
- Skin and hair
“Being outside in the fresh air any time is also good for your skin,” says therapist Kate Morris-Bates (opens in new tab). “Your pores are open and your skin breathes better, giving it a chance to remove any toxins. The cool air can also prevent sebum – so hair and skin is less shiny and oily.”
- Immune system
“Nature walks, also known as forest bathing, are thought to help boost our immune system through breathing in phytoncides released by trees,” says health and fitness professional Sean Lerwill at Maximuscle (opens in new tab).
- Weight loss
Go for a walk in the cold. “When you go out in the cold, your lungs take in the cold air and your skin feels the temperature,” says Sean. “This could have some positive effects on metabolism and weight loss.”
- Pain levels
Patients recovering from spinal surgery experienced less pain and took fewer pain medications when they were exposed to natural light, as found by the University of Pittsburgh in 2005.
When being indoors can be bad for you
Forget the dangers of car fumes when outside, being inside can actually leave you more susceptible to air pollution. “There can be more pollutants in the home than outdoors,” says biochemist Dr Chris Etheridge, adviser to Puressentiel (opens in new tab). Which is why investing in one of the best air purifiers for allergies (opens in new tab) could be worth it.
“Indoor air pollution is a term used to describe the pollutants that can be found in the air in our home," says Dr Etheridge. “We can’t see these – they are microscopic – but they can be gases, dust or dirt. In fact, air quality tests found pollution inside homes (opens in new tab) peaked at levels which were 560 times higher than those outside.”
Why air pollution can be damaging to your health
Air pollution is very dangerous and could have a lasting impact on our health, especially in terms of respiratory problems.
“The number of people diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has jumped by 27% in a decade,” says Dr Etheridge. “You might experience allergy type symptoms, from sneezing or itchy eyes or throat to wheezing. Plus, if you already have asthma you might experience an increase in symptoms. Or you may not have any symptoms, yet your body is still inhaling the pollutant flying around in the air.”
Health benefits of flowers
And, once out, make sure you maximise your “green prescription” with an extra hit of colour. The right shade of blooms can give you a much-needed boost. Choose a route outside to find these growing, says floral designer Lara Sanjar (opens in new tab)...
- Pink tulips
“Commonly known as the colour of relaxation, a shade of pink called Baker-Miller has even been said to reduce violence in hostile environments.”
- Orange ranunculus
“Helping to rebalance joy, optimism and wisdom, orange ranunculus can brighten the gloomiest of winter days.”
- Yellow chrysanthemums
“Yellow inspires feelings of happiness and warmth. It also drives confidence, clarity and contentment. Chrysanthemums also symbolise optimism and joy.”
- Purple anemones
“These will help to keep you motivated and inspired for all those creative projects you have been putting off, and keep you calm when you could be feeling overwhelmed.”
- Blue forget-me-nots
“A calming colour, reflective of the sea and sky. These blue blooms help to stimulate mental clarity, creative expression and aspiration.”
All the more reason to get outside!
Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships.
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