The great outdoors certainly lives up to its superlative. Research has shown that getting outside can lift our spirits and brighten our mood so much that it can actually be a form of therapy.
Nature breaks can be especially beneficial to people who are stressed. Looking to spend some quality time with mother nature? Studies show that she will gladly return the favor of your company with some impressive health benefits.
Dirt: an antidepressant?
Most avid gardeners will tell you there’s no place they would rather be than in their garden. As it turns out, there may be a scientific reason for the positive vibes we get when we’re digging in the dirt.
Studies show that the Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) found in soil actually has an effect on the brain that's similar to the drug Prozac. Cancer patients who were exposed to the inoffensive bacterium reported less stress and a better quality of life, most likely due to the bump in serotonin production.
“What we think happens is that the bacteria activate immune cells, which release chemicals called cytokines that then act on receptors on the sensory nerves to increase their activity,” Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England, hypothesizes.
Spending just a few minutes outside doing “green exercise” has been scientifically proven to boost self esteem. For city-dwellers, in particular, getting back to nature can do wonders on the mood. One study finds that you don’t have to spend all day outside to get a self esteem boost from nature; just five minutes will do.
After analyzing data from ten different studies pertaining to outdoor activities (walking, cycling, gardening, etc), researchers found that the biggest dose of self esteem came as a result of just five minutes outside.
"For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health," University of Essex researcher Jules Pretty tells the BBC.
The Japanese have a custom called forest bathing (“Shinrin-yoku”). The idea is simple: go for a walk in the woods. But its positive effects on health are seemingly endless.
One study finds that forest environments contribute to our overall well-being by promoting lower concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.
Scientists hypothesize that this could be partially because of an antimicrobial organic compound emitted from trees. Breathing phytoncides like a-pinene and limonene can actually make us happier.