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- Spending time in nature has been linked to improved health markers.
- Five ways spending time outdoors works, scientifically, to boost well-being.
- How to spend time marveling at a sunset to reap these natural benefits.
Famed neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks, M.D., often celebrated the healing power of nature, proclaiming that “gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” He recounts watching a friend’s severe Tourette’s syndrome disappear (at least, for a short time) while hiking in a remote desert and a woman he met who was severely immobilized by Parkinson’s becoming fully mobile once she was led into a garden.
Research shows that our environments can directly impact our stress levels. What you are experiencing at any given moment—through sight, sound, smell, or touch—changes not only your emotional state, but also how your entire central nervous system works.
Science continues to prove that being in nature is beneficial to both body and mind, while its absence in our lives negatively influences well-being. But how much and what kind of nature do you need to truly reap its restorative properties?
Below, find the latest research that asserts you only need 10 minutes outside to improve health-related outcomes, and learn one simple way to achieve this daily.
Simply smelling the hinoki cypress in Japan lowers blood pressure, forest bathing (or, taking a walk in a forest) promotes cardiovascular health, and grounding for just 40 minutes creates positive metabolic change.
The studies on nature’s powerful healing powers—once lacking—are becoming more and more abundantly evident. But what is it about being outside that can have such profound effects on health?
First, and perhaps most logically, nature can provide a buffer against air and noise pollution, depending on your surroundings. Second, nature typically entails a more physically active experience, whether that’s walking in a city park or along the seashore. Third, nature connects us to others by providing us with a physical space to socialize (social connectedness provides equally important benefits to well-being). Finally, nature itself can be perceived as a natural art form, and art serves many as a form of therapy.
Then, there’s the beyond—the inexplicable way in which nature reinforces well-being.
After being submerged in a forest for about a day, senses can recalibrate. The senses are more attuned and pick up new sights and smells. It’s as if there’s been a complete shift in qualitative thinking. It provokes a sense of wonderment and awe, quieting mental anxiety and chatter.
The creator of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, wholeheartedly believed in the healing power of nature. Based solely on intuition, he proclaimed, “[i]t is a scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character ... is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect.”
With today’s research, we can scientifically prove the profound: that time spent in green space positively alters things like brain waves, stress hormones, and protein markers, and, consequently, lowers disease risk.
But what if you don’t have access to the hinoki cypress? What if you can’t easily get to an outdoor space for a three-day weekend? What if a beach walk is something you can do only once a year?
You do not need to travel cross-county to reap nature’s medicine. Nature can be any place where you feel connected to the natural world. It can mean pure wilderness or the rows of potted plants on your windowsill.
Spending just 10 minutes in an outdoor space can lessen the effects of physical and mental stress. And nature can be as simple as walking out of your office building onto a patch of grass or admiring a row of trees in a public park. Choose whatever experience is most accessible and restorative to you.
To get you started, try this.
For the next week, take time marveling at a sunset every evening (or sunrise, if that works better for your schedule). To do this, just go outside. Watch as the sun sets, as it fades deeper and deeper into the horizon. Admire its majesty—but also, its end. Marvel at the colors, at the limitless sky that envelops it. Try not to think about anything else except that sunset before you.
Spend just 10 minutes outside, in the fresh air, admiring the spectacle. Spend this time connecting with and fully marveling at the natural beauty in front of you. After trying this out for a few weeks, you may start to notice small benefits—take note of them. You may also find that it starts to become one of the most enjoyable parts of your everyday.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop, and Dr. Harpreet Nagra, PhD, VP, behavior science and advanced technologies at One Drop.