How many times must you be told to stop and smell the flowers? If the last time you saw a flower involved you on a sidewalk or you in a grocery store, it’s time to kick it up a notch. You’re going to take a hike. I know, I ain’t yo momma, but I am a momma, so that’s got to count for something; besides, the best parents want their kids to want to do stuff because they see the value in it for themselves.
Today I’m talking about why spending time in the woods is not just for hippie chicks, and how you can become a hippie too. Come on, you’re ready for this.
*insert evil laugh
Spending time in nature improves your focus. You know the two things that make your brain want to lay on the couch and not get up for three whole days and nights?
- Having to keep itself focused on a single task for a long period of time and
- fighting to focus on too many things at once. When either of these two things happen, you can see your brain’s eyes glaze over, feel desire slip from its fingers, hear its yawn of lassitude. This is what is called Directed Attention Fatigue. I know, another term for some fragile human condition; still, it’s out there fatiguing brains. Here’s the good news. Being out in nature surrounded by a different view at every step, catching the shadow of a bird soaring overhead, stepping over roots and fallen branches, these things give the cognitive part of our brains a chance to lay down for a nap instead of collapsing into a three day draw the curtains, it’s too damn bright in here binger. This brain nap will be rewarded with increased levels of focus, even for those struggling with ADHD.
Time spent around trees will boost your mood, lower your blood pressure and reduce stress. Research has shown that spending time among trees, whether we’re exercising or just sitting and staring at them, has immediate positive effects on our bodies by reducing the stress-inducing chemicals cortisol and adrenaline and boosting our mood with serotonin. Symptoms of anxiety, fatigue, depression are all decreased by trees. Next time you’re in need of stress relief, pick up a walking stick and go hug a tree. Yes, science supports the hippies.
Getting outside will improve your eye health. I don’t know of anyone who would voluntarily give up their eyesight, and yet that’s what we do when we spend countless hours staring at a screen, or simply indoors under artificial lighting. Nearsightedness has increased from 25 percent of Americans in the 1970s to 42 percent currently. Shocking, right? Our eyes are designed to absorb natural light, and children who spend very little time outdoors are shown to have surprisingly higher levels of nearsightedness than their peers who regularly get outside. I know that glasses are fashionable now, but save your money and keep your eyes healthy.
Indoor air is nasty. Just nasty. From now on, every time you think of indoor air I want you to imagine the creepy guy on the street corner who sizes you up five seconds too long while licking his nasty bottom lip. Indoor air can be two to five times more contaminated with pollutants than outdoor air, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Indoor air has been blamed for all manners of poor health. Being surrounded by trees means allowing nature to do what it does best, heal and protect us. Remember that scene in The Green Mile (*spoiler alert) when he sucks all the fluttering blackness from her body and she regains the rosy blush of youth? Trees do that too.
Boost your immune system. One way that trees and other plants protect themselves is by releasing a chemical called phytoncides. It’s used to ward off insects, and it contains antibacterial and antifungal properties. When we walk among trees, we are taking in, not only fresher air, but medicinal air which boosts our immune systems in a quantifiable way. Japanese researchers have coined the term shinrin-yoku, or “forest-bathing”, and let me just say it again, the hippies were right. *
Taking a walk in the woods is not just for hippie chicks and tree-huggers. Connecting with nature is what we’re naturally built for. It nurtures us and helps us in becoming our happiest, healthiest, most productive selves.
Head here for a list of links to the studies supporting these findings.
My name is Lyz-Stephanie and I want to inspire you to be more connected to yourself and the world, to find beauty in simple pleasures, and to have more adventures. Every day we can do something to make our lives happier and richer, make our minds more active and engaged. I’m on the journey. Will you join me?