Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Aug

The Rich and Measurable Benefits of Spending More Time in Nature

Anyone outside as they’re reading this? Who’s wishing they were? (I imagine there are many heads nodding.) It’s a natural human instinct, this pining away at the office window, this emotional itch to break out, and finally the luxuriant relief to be in the open again. The fact is, we’re never so much at home as we are in the outdoors. Nature was the context and logic for all of human evolution. Temporary shelters and caves aside, our nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors lived their full lives under the big sky. They developed complex skills and even aesthetic preferences adaptive to surviving in the natural world. Increasingly, research illuminates the deep-reaching legacy of our natural roots. Studies support what Primal intuition has known all along: there are rich and measurable benefits to being in nature.

Think about all the times you’ve spent outdoors in your life. Beyond the mere comings and goings of the day, when have you been present in nature largely for its own sake? Some of us are hikers, some hunters. Some love to camp or sit on the beach. A few are tree climbers, a few mountain climbers. Some relish the chance to photograph the perfect sunset or the local wildlife. We’re alternately runners, walkers, kayakers, and playground enthusiasts. Many among us head outdoors for adventure while others prefer to lose themselves in the quiet observation of a river’s flow. We follow different purposes but ultimately feed a common instinct.

We know how we feel in these encounters. We’re calm, exhilarated, fortified, restored, still. The effects are more than emotional, however, and the significance more than personal. Modern medicine is beginning to catch on to the use of nature in healing and maintaining health. It’s part of growing attention to therapeutic lifestyle practices, basic activities that demonstrate health related benefits. In fact, there’s a movement taking root across the globe – from Norway to Japan, from New Mexico to North Carolina – to prescribe nature. Though the details and incentive vary considerably, physicians are partnering with national, state, or local park organizations to encourage their patients to use the opportunity for exercise and immersion in nature to better their health.

It’s with good reason. On the physical side, time in nature is associated with a welcome decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nerve activity. There’s the dramatic increase of anti-cancer protein expression and natural killer cells to fight off infection and cancer growth. To boot, exercising outdoors in green – or better yet green and “blue” (body of water) – space enhances the gains of each workout. Subjects in studies report greater revitalization, increased energy, and more positive engagement, along with less depression, anger, confusion, and tension when they exercised outdoors in comparison with indoor workouts.

Then there are the other mental benefits, including the overall reduction in stress as well as cognitive advantages such as the replenishing of voluntary attention that enhance connectivity in the brain and allows us to focus efficiently. And don’t forget the opportunity to experience deep joy and transcendental connectedness. It’s a shame we can’t all be outside right now.

Moreover, it appears from the totality of research that time in nature most powerfully nurtures us when we’re most “at risk” – of disease, depression, or desperation. Studies have illuminated measurable physiological progress (e.g. fewer surgical related complications, decreased use of pain medication, and shorter hospital stays) and greater emotional well-being when patients frequent hospital gardens like the amazing Prouty Garden of Children’s Hospital in Boston (which may be eliminated to make space for other clinical facilities) or simply have a “green” view in their rooms (PDF). Time in open natural space drastically reduces the symptoms of ADHD and behavioral disorders in children. Wilderness therapy has been instrumental in abuse and addiction recovery models (PDF). Immersion in nature can offer an emotional release for many, while the challenge of outdoor adventures can act as a turning point in regaining trust and self-esteem.

Nature therapies, especially surf therapy, are now supported by a number of military related nonprofits to help many returning soldiers transition to civilian life and to cope with trauma and disability resulting from their combat experiences. As the foundation director of one ocean therapy organization explains, “Surfing [can be] a catalyst, where after injury, the Marine may feel damaged or unable to complete his mission. After surfing and gaining that renewed confidence, some of the participants show a renewed vision towards the future and begin to set goals and engage with their families again.”

The truth is, many of us can benefit from the open, elemental space nature offers to re-envision ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. Outside the roles and routines of daily life, we can encounter what’s most essential in our selves and others. We can let go of everything but a momentary, wild awareness. In doing so, we can release the pain or heaviness we’ve been carrying. We can unblock the channels for feeling and relating. Unbound by physical and emotional distraction, we can be more present for our children, partners, and other loved ones (PDF).

There’s both physical and emotional power in returning to what is most essential in ourselves. In nature, we find congruence – the biological and psychic synchronicity that directed our evolution. We’re nurtured within this ancient set point, the origin for a potent path to healing and vitality.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know your thoughts about how nature has influenced your well-being. Have a great end to the week, and get outside!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Right on!
    When I was younger,(late50’s early 60’s)
    I disappeared into the Catskills for 3 or 4 days, in the winter, on snowshoes.
    One of the best trips I ever had.

    Fred wrote on August 16th, 2012
  2. I lived on the PCT for 6 months and change. I got so used to living outdoors in nature that I slept like a rock, couldn’t sleep indoors anymore, couldn’t sleep with a pillow or a soft mattress and actually felt more scared of danger in town than in the Wilderness. I’d emerge from the trees to peer at the strange world of cars and roads, and then fade back into the forest where I felt I truly belonged. I missed nothing from modern life except for food and taking a shower.

    Diane wrote on August 16th, 2012
  3. I used to crave the sound of waves rolling in. After a decade on the coast and running from storms, now its the crunch of boots in snow I want on my next vacation. Very nice post.

    Kim wrote on August 16th, 2012
  4. There is an arboretum just outside the city in which I live. It is quite small, one could walk around the whole thing in about an hour and a half. It is gorgeous. My favorite part is a group of eight huge Redwoods planted in a circle. Very Druid, I thought! The leaf litter is so thick I can’t help but lie in it whenever I’m there. The last time I pretended to do back stroke in it while a group of stunned looking people scurried past. Embarrassed the heck out of my sister! LOL

    Kitty wrote on August 16th, 2012
    • Circular clearings are very nice places. I used to live near one and visited it often. It was on a hill surrounded by pines and there was a boulder in the middle that I’d stand or sit on sort of meditatively, with closed eyes or glancing around at the trees or staring up at the sky.

      Animanarchy wrote on August 17th, 2012
  5. Good timing! The Mister and I are going on a week long camping trip around the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. It’s close to our Phoenix home and will be a good test of our new camper … we’ve made an expensive commitment to being out in nature a LOT more. Okay, out in nature all day but come bedtime, I want a comfy place to land! Both of us grew up with wild nature at the doorstep and want to get back out there while we’re young and healthy enough to walk about among the wild things. Grok on!

    Cave Grrrrl wrote on August 16th, 2012
    • p.s. This thing we love is called biophilia and we are hard-wired for it.

      Cave Grrrrl wrote on August 16th, 2012
  6. I’ve been outside in big mountains for nearly 50 years. Just chuck me in the nearest hole when the time comes.

    kem wrote on August 17th, 2012
  7. Getting outside always gives me the boost I need when I’m feeling lethargic. Hiking gives me a great workout plus its destressing and I get to see some amazing wildlife, and it’s free!

    Jared wrote on August 17th, 2012
  8. Yes, to spend time with Nature is absolutely give many benefits as it decreases the ratio of diseases and makes you more healthy.

    Shweta Singhal wrote on August 17th, 2012
  9. Another perfectly timed post. Wednesday night my hubby and I were contemplating whether or not we could take off camping/kayaking this weekend. A brief lightening storm hit and fried our internet connection for the following 2 days. We took it as a sign. Internet comes back on and here’s this post. We’re out of here.

    Stefanie wrote on August 17th, 2012
    • Primal, it’s a cult!

      Animanarchy wrote on August 17th, 2012
  10. I’m probably going away for a month near the beginning of September to stay in a cabin / camp out with a friend and help with some outdoor work.
    It should be a nice payoff.

    Animanarchy wrote on August 17th, 2012
  11. I am heading up to NorthPark ( Jackson County near Walden) to hike the high country. I am scouting for my Muzzleloader Elk hunt that starts in 2 weeks. I will be from 9000 ft to 11500 ft elevation. Steep country but increadably beautiful. I will be out as much as possible for the next 2 weeks and then the 9 day back country hunt. Every time I get into the mountains it’s like my batteries get recharged. I am a photographer so I get to the mountains as much as possible but my primary job as a Realtor keeps me in town a lot. Still still the mountains are where I truly feel alive and at home.

    Rick Lesquier wrote on August 17th, 2012
  12. Captain Obvious wrote on August 17th, 2012
    • Nice one

      Animanarchy wrote on August 18th, 2012
      • If I still had the Crank 2 DVD and a computer to play it with I think I’d make a comic with screenshots.
        Chevy: “Doc, I’m running on empty.”
        Doctor Miles: “That’s good Chevy, you’re probably in ketosis.”

        Animanarchy wrote on August 23rd, 2012
  13. Great read I really like the posts that focus on nature!

    The healing qualities on body and mind can’t be doubted.

    Randall wrote on August 17th, 2012
  14. Imagine if there were no such distinction as “nature” referring to a “place” that is “somewhere else.” Being encouraged to go “out into nature” suggests a default to being in not-nature, as though that were possible.

    Humans are an integral part of the Earth’s ecosystem; the way we live *is* natural. It just isn’t always healthy, or conducive to well-being, but it is the way we are, living the way we do. The very idea that it is possible to live outside of nature or outside of our own nature, is impossible.

    That said, integrating ones activities and choices of atmosphere and environment for the purpose of well-being to our ecosystem, makes sense for those who want it. Every species has its outliers, but in the case of humans, it just happens that the outliers (the civilised, city-dwellers) have become more numerous and influential- again, it’s natural, just not beneficial for the whole species, except potentially as an outlying event.

    Devoting time to inter-species interaction outside of humanite mounds (cities) is good for everyone and everything. Even ants and termites thrive by going outside of their cities. We’re no different.

    But again, natural selection is at work, and weak-bodied, soft-minded, techno-dependent, species-isolated humans are a part of that selection process. Nature always takes her course. Everything is natural. Knowing this empowers humans to choose our environment and interaction with others (inter-species like sitting on grass, under trees, watching birds, swimming over lobsters, whatever).

    I live in the woods. Next month, my family will be living directly on the forest floor, under the protection of trees, integrating ourselves into a wilderness we’ve never encountered before. My brother lives in Toronto. Both are completely natural. :)

    Imogen wrote on August 17th, 2012
  15. Last week I visited the VA State Arboretum near Winchester VA. It’s fairly open, with stands of trees, occasional gardens, and a view of the Blue Ridge. Bicycled several miles of gravel road. Later sat out and watched 9 juvenile bluebirds dipping water as the dusk came on. My BP probably dropped 10 points. We’re lucky here in the outer DC burbs with ample opportunities at state/national parks. The AT is about 25 minutes from home.

    Keith wrote on August 17th, 2012
  16. When comparing a workout I did after spending a day outside in the sun and walking barefoot with the ones I was in my room locked the difference is HUGE.

    Strength increase, better recovery between sets, more motivation. Amazing.

    Mario wrote on August 18th, 2012
  17. I love nature. I am so glad fall is coming because I have a serious problem with bugs. I can handle snakes, mice, bats, etc, but buzzing and creepy crawlies drive me bonkers. I love the killing frost and the crisp air and am looking forward to fall hikes.

    My “office” is utterly windowless and it drives me crazy. My loving husband just bought me a giant picture of a rough path through misty woods for one of my walls. At least I have that to stare at instead of brick.

    Amazing Husband also put our old patio furniture in the middle of the “woods” on our property. He was trying to convince me to move our morning breakfasts from the back yard into the woods…. after reading this, I’m looking forward to it!

    Nicole wrote on August 18th, 2012
  18. My family and I just tent camped for a week on Lake Superiors south shore. I ate sheep heart “cooked” on a hot stone in a fire pit. Delicious! The blood was dripping down my chin and I have never felt more Primal. An experience for sure!!

    Kari wrote on August 19th, 2012
  19. It’s funny what we forget as a society. The classic, “the power of positive thinking” is full of stories of doctors prescribing trips to the wilderness as a cure to the ailments of modern life. This was first published in 1952. The power of nature as a cure was lost to the “power” of prescriptions along the way. ” these woods, mountains, and valleys constitue what ought to be a sure retreat from every confusion of this world”. – Norman vincent Peale

    Nick wrote on August 21st, 2012
  20. Whats up very nice site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also?I am happy to search out so many helpful info right here within the publish, we want develop more techniques on this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

    listas vip casanovas wrote on September 8th, 2012
  21. We have recently got rid of our 2nd car so now I am forced to walk or bike everywhere (99% of the time) which is GREAT and I love it. I do have to be much more organised though and with food it’s not always easy given my sometimes limited time. But I am still eating primal, just have to keep the fridge well stocked!

    I am doing the 2013 Trailwalker for Oxfam next year. Which is 100km around Lake Taupo in NZ (see link below for info) and I am wondering if I will be able to do it in my VFF’s and what food I should take with me.

    Also would love donations if your interested.

    Thanks, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts

    Victoria wrote on October 19th, 2012
  22. Superb article, thanks man! wrote on April 12th, 2013
  23. We cannot avoid the importance of mother nature from our life. It’s our privilege that nature is providing this much of health benefits. But many of us don’t fully utilize these benefits. The reason behind is that we aren’t aware about the health benefits of nature. Even i understood the health benefits of nature after reading this informative post. So that today onwards i’ll fully utilize the benefits of nature as much as i can. Thank you for sharing this post.

    Sanjay Sajeev wrote on July 22nd, 2014

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