Being in nature is inherently restorative. Aside from research showing how spending time outside can be therapeutic, we can feel for ourselves the benefits of being immersed in the natural world any time we go for a hike, walk on the beach or spend time in the mountains. There’s even a term—nature therapy—to describe the healing experience of spending time in the natural world.
Sadly, most of us don’t get a chance to spend all that much time outside these days. The Environmental Protection Agency sponsored a study finding that the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors. (Yikes.) For humans who used to thrive and survive outdoors, the idea that so many of us are confined inside for most of our lives is more than a little disconcerting.
To get outside more, try forest bathing: Originating with the Japanese plant therapy practice shinrin-yoku, this act of being outdoors, whether in an actual forest or just your local park, can boost your mood and your overall health. Here are just some of the benefits of getting out of the office (or off your couch) and among the trees.
Being in Nature Makes You Feel Less Stressed
Fresh air, gorgeous scenery—it’s no wonder that being immersed in nature has a calming effect. Scientifically-speaking, however, walking outdoors is proven to lower people’s blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, at least according to a 2010 study. It makes sense: Listening to the sounds of the natural world, from wind in the trees to the crunch of leaves under your feet, is far less anxiety-inducing than hearing the busy hum of cars and people on a city street. Being in nature brings you to a slower pace of life, which you can then adopt into your everyday activities.
Being in Nature Makes You Happier
In addition to having a calming effect, forest bathing lowers depression levels, another study found. People who participated in this research showed a slower pulse rate after being in nature, plus they felt less tired. If you’re having a bad day or are feeling down about life, being outside can provide a pick-me-up like no other.
Being in Nature May Make You Healthier
You can take your forest bathing practice up a notch by practicing “earthing” and reap even more benefits. What is earthing, you may ask? Well, it’s walking through nature barefoot to experience the actual touching of your skin to the earth. Yes, it may sound a little “granola,” but there’s evidence that doing this can actually reduce and prevent inflammation in your body. Essentially, the earth’s free electrons flow from the ground into your body when you walk barefoot, reducing free radicals and static electrical charge. Going barefoot can even potentially help you sleep better. It’s worth a try, right?
Being in Nature Helps You Focus on Yourself
When you’re out in nature, you’re likely doing two things: Getting exercise, even if you’re just walking and not looking at your smartphone. Because your blood is flowing and your mind is free from distraction, you’re able to turn inward and get a good dose of self-care. Moving your body has both mental and physical benefits, while unplugging from your social, financial and career responsibilities gives you the space to recharge.
Being in Nature Makes You Nicer to Others
Yes, research shows that when we immerse ourselves in nature, we’re actually nicer people. Nature encourages people to place a higher value on their communities and how connected they feel to other people, making them less selfish and more caring. When your relationships with other people are strong, happy and drama-free, chances are that you’ll be happier overall, too.
So the next time you’re feeling sluggish, or if you’ve simply realized that you haven’t been outside all day, take a break and get out in nature. Forest bathing can restore your mental and physical health, allowing you a chance for rejuvenation—any time you want it.