We all know spending time outdoors is good for us. But many of us just don’t do it enough; in fact, the average American only spends 5 percent of their day outside. Between working on computers, commuting in cars, and binge-watching TV, unlike our ancestors, our habits and routines just no longer prioritise time in nature.
This indoor lifestyle can lead to what’s called “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” to describe what happens to humans when estranged from an outdoor environment.
The term isn’t meant to be a medical diagnosis, but Louv’s book gets the message across crystal clear: without direct exposure to nature, our mental and physical health can take a big hit.
As a city-dwelling entrepreneur who spends a lot of time online, I’ve often struggled to nurture my relationship was nature - but after reading more about Nature-Deficit Disorder, I’ve begun to make a change for the better. Let’s delve into how being in tune with nature can help us thrive:
What do you miss when you stay indoors?
According to the Children & Nature Network, a non-profit organization co-founded by Louv to reconnect children with the outdoors, a lack of nature can create the conditions for obesity, attention difficulties, and physical and emotional illnesses.
That said, recent investigations don’t necessarily delve into how a lack of nature affects us negatively, but more so, how our minds and bodies are revived when we’re exposed to it.
There’s a whole range of reports that show the benefits. A series of studies from the University of Rochester, for example, demonstrated that spending just 20 minutes outdoors increased vitality in people, making them feel more alive.
One study found that forest bathing (that is, immersing oneself in forests) decreased stress hormones by upward of 15 percent. Then another study demonstrated that forest bathing helps to reduce inflammation.
Spending time outdoors can help to improve short-term memory, too. A University of Michigan study found that students who walked in nature before re-taking a test improved by 20 percent, while students who walked in the city didn’t improve at all.
As you can see, spending time in nature can provide our bodies and minds with a range of powerful benefits. But when our lives seem to be fine-tuned for indoor life, how can we prioritise escaping to the great outdoors?
So, you recognise you don’t spend enough time in nature. But there’s no need to sorrowfully regret your city housing choice or vow to make a drastic life change. To absorb the best nature has to offer, wherever you are, all you need to do is walk out your front door.
“Any green space will provide some benefit to mental and physical well-being. In urban areas, more natural landscapes can be found in a park, a quiet corner with a tree, several pots with vegetables growing outside, or even a peaceful place with a view of the sky and clouds,” said Louv in an interview with Greater Good Magazine.
“Connection to nature should be an everyday occurrence, and if we design our cities—including our homes, apartments, workplaces, and schools—to work in harmony with nature and biodiversity, this could become a commonplace pattern.”
If you are lucky enough to live in nature - or at least escape the city every once and a while - I highly recommend forest bathing. The Japanese habit promotes the therapeutic exposure to trees and forests, and I’ve felt the benefits first hand. I find it so relaxing to walk through the dense trees, and to disconnect from the world while doing so.
And no wonder how ‘Insta-worthy’ a scene might be, I find forest bathing works best when technology is left at home. It’s important to give yourself the chance to be mindful, and to really be present with nature.
However, if you find it difficult to head into nature - even if it’s just a city park - it doesn’t hurt to schedule time in the outdoors. Instead of planning to watch a movie with your significant other or kids, why not plan a picnic or walk by the lake? It can make a big difference in the way you feel.
Our bodies were meant to enjoy being outside, surrounded by nature. It’s only natural to make it a priority in our lives. So the next time you’re feeling lazy on the couch, consider all the amazing benefits of spending time in a green, leafy environment will provide your body and soul. It just might make you bolt out the door.