A recent study about the benefits of being in nature made me think about the scene in The Matrix in which Morpheus gives Neo a choice between taking the blue pill and the red pill — only now it’s between pills and natural green spaces. The study suggests that green spaces (gardens, parks, forests) and blue spaces (rivers, lakes and seas) have numerous mental and physical health benefits, and that green outdoor spaces in particular may even reduce the need for medications to soothe anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, asthma and insomnia. I’m in.
The study suggests that green spaces (gardens, parks, forests) and blue spaces (rivers, lakes and seas) have numerous mental and physical health benefits, and that green outdoor spaces in particular may even reduce the need for medications to soothe anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, asthma and insomnia.
A study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, in which 6,000 people in large cities in Finland responded to questions about the effects of nature on the use of medications, showed that visits to nature three to four times a week lowered the odds of using blood pressure pills and medications for mental health and asthma. Spending time immersed in greenery reduced the odds of using mental health medications by 33 percent, blood pressure medicine by 36 percent and asthma medications by 26 percent.
Exposure to nature has been linked to:
Enhanced immune system function. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, when you breathe in air, you are breathing in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal properties. When we inhale these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing specific white blood cells called natural killer cells (NK) that kill virus and tumor cells in the body.
Better breathing. Spending time in nature could help lower the risk of respiratory issues. Indoor air can be full of pollutants, allergens like dust and pet dander, and harmful chemicals from cleaning products. So a breath of fresh air is healing.
A calm parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s command center). It releases tension, reduces anxiety and stress hormone levels, and lowers blood pressure, which when raised can contribute to ill health.
Increased Black girl joy. Being outdoors in nature helps promote a more optimistic outlook and happiness. According to a 2019 study published in Science Advances, evidence supports an association between experiences in nature and increased psychological well-being. This includes happiness and subjective well-being; positive social interactions; a sense of meaning and purpose in life; improved management of life tasks; a decrease in mental distress; and an increase in cognitive function, memory and attention. It also boosts mood and eases depression and fatigue.
Improved sleep. Since sunlight affects circadian rhythms, being out in nature and natural light helps you feel more tired at night, which shortens the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep. Better sleep helps reduces symptoms of depression, improves mood and reduces risks of health problems.
Rejuvenation. While nature is calming and helps you unwind, it also helps you recharge. This is extra helpful because all that screen time spent on phones, laptops, tablets and television can overstimulate the system and drain mental energy.