Benefits of Nature –
It’s Not Only About Movement

 by Dr. Shelby Worts, BSc, ND 

When we think of getting out into nature, what often comes to mind is moving our bodies—hiking, running, climbing, paddling, etc. How often do you envision being still? There is growing evidence regarding the benefits to both physical and mental health of going outside and… simply being. 

Back in the 1980s, Japan coined the term Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bathing,” after observing the health benefits of spending mindful time in nature. Around the same time, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson put forth the biophilia hypothesis, which posits that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. In the years since, studies have demonstrated that exposure to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, can enhance cognitive function, promote relaxation, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Interesting observations from studies include: 

• Fifteen minutes in nature resulted in a lowering of blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol. 

• Two hours in nature led to reduced anxiety, depression, hostility, and blood sugar levels, and an increase in immune cell activity. 

• Three days in nature (such as backcountry camping) can actually impact brain waves—less beta waves (frenetic, go-go-go) and more alpha and theta waves (associated with relaxation and meditation). 

• No noticeable benefits were observed when time in nature included cell phone use. 

Tips for getting the most out of your time in nature: 

• Start by closing your eyes and checking in with each of your senses. What can you hear? What do you feel touching your skin? What do you smell? Now open your eyes—what do you see? 

• Focus outwardly, not inwardly. 

• Aim for twenty minutes, three times weekly. 

• Leave your smartphone at home (or at least turn off all notifications and keep it tucked away). 

Being in southern Georgian Bay, we have many opportunities to take advantage of these health benefits of forests and waterscapes—whether you spend time on local town trails, journey further to the Bruce Trail and rural parklands, or spend time on the shoreline of the bay. Get out there and start experiencing the healing power of nature. E