Connect with Nature this Winter
By Nanci Nilles Psy.D.
Not only is nature beautiful, now there is evidence it may reduce type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, sleep disorders, pre-term birth, and premature death.
An examination of the evidence from 140 studies involving populations from the UK, US, Spain, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan, suggests communities with higher levels of green space are more likely to report overall good health. The study defined green space as both open underdeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban green spaces such as parks and street greenery. (Twohig-Bennet 2018)
There are theories as to why nature seems to heal. Some speculate the increased physical activity and socialization, which often accompanies outdoor activity, is responsible for a decrease in inflammation. Others speculate the outdoors exposes the body to a wider range of bacteria than an indoor dwelling, which strengthens the immune system.
Being in nature also seems to switch the body into a "rest and digest" mode, which is the opposite of the fight or flight mode. The fight or flight response diverts physical resources from "nonessential" functions such as the immune system. When the body is in nature and feels safe, the immune system strengthens which improves overall mental and physical health.
It can be tempting to hole up for the winter in front of screens. However, a walk around the neighborhood, stepping outside a work site for a breath of fresh air, or faithfully filling the bird feeder may be more healing and helpful than you would have ever thought - no need to wait for spring to get a dose of nature's healing.
The Health Benefits of the Great Outdoors: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Green Space Exposure and Health Outcome. Environmental Research July 2018. Twohig-Bennet et al.