I recently escaped the city lights for a week in Scotland. We stayed in a little stone croft in the middle of a field in the Scottish Highlands surrounded by the sound of sheep that served as our natural ‘alarm clock’ and views of the Nevis Mountain Range. It was absolutely stunning and the fresh air and open space left me feeling so well – I was relaxed, calm and re-energised. I wondered if a week away from hectic city life and unplugging from social media could actually have health benefits. Turns out, there are a lot of researchers out there who believe that being outdoors in nature may be essential to good health. It seems the more time we spend in urban environments, the more stressed and anxious we become. Here are some health benefits associated with an escape to fresher air and greener spaces: Lowers stress and lowers blood pressure Our day to day lives are filled with deadlines, meetings, calls to make, people to see, gym classes to attend, chores to do…it’s no wonder most of us are feeling more stressed and as if there are just not enough hours in the day. Studies have found that people who spend time in the city have higher levels of cortisol and heart rates than those who spend time in nature, such as a forest. An increase in cortisol can lead to elevated levels of blood sugar, chances of diabetes, weight gain and immune system suppression, so it makes sense to try reduce levels as much as possible. When you walk through nature without technological distractions, you are more likely to take in the smallest details around you. This slows breathing, calms the mind and awakens the senses. Increases productivity and problem solving skills The latest scientific research has shown that time spent in nature, away from distractions of technology and urban life allows the mind to focus more and increases creativity and problem solving ability. Walking in nature, gazing at a sunset or watching the crashing waves of the ocean – all these simple activities in nature allow us to stop, reflect, prioritise, put into perspective and resolve problems without the clutter and distraction of urban life. Boosts mental health A Stanford study found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. City dwellers have higher chances of anxiety and mood disorders compared with those who live in rural areas. Time spent in nature is shown to reduce the time spent thinking negative thoughts and reduces anger, fear, stress and unpleasant feelings. In fact, scientists are saying that there are severe health problems, such as depression, associated with nature deprivation – a lack of time in the natural world due to increased hours watching TV or sitting in front of a screen. Here are some easy ways to incorporate more time in nature into your daily routine:
- Go for a morning walk – even if its just walking to the furthest bus stop.
- Instead of eating lunch at your desk, go sit in the park or walk to a café a bit further than the one you usually grab your lunch from.
- Exercise outside – this is definitely harder during the winter months (trust me I know the feeling of not wanting to venture outside into the cold) but when the sun is shining, opt for a workout outside or swap the treadmill for the dirt track or park.
- Meditate outdoors. Just ten minutes a day without screens, calls, music. Just you, nature, positive thoughts and mindful breathing.