If you can’t wait to go camping or be in the great outdoors, there are good reasons for it beyond the desire to get out of Dodge. Research proves what we have long intuited;
being outside is good for us. Physical and psychological health improves with time spent in natural environments.
Many of us spend a lot of time indoors, under artificial light. While we know that we need to be sensible about sun exposure, sunlight supports good health.
Early morning sun exposure resets our circadian rhythm, improving sleep. Sunlight is responsible for the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to maintain a healthy immune system, reduces inflammation, the risk of some cancers and osteoporosis.
Sunlight improves vision. Various studies have linked the time spent indoors under artificial light with nearsightedness in children. Sunlight also increases serotonin levels, helping us to feel calmer and more positive. It’s harder to be cranky on a beautiful, sunny day.
Being outdoors inspires movement, lowering the risk of being overweight. It’s not necessary to work up a heart-pumping sweat to glean some health benefits from being outside. A stroll in a forest or park can help prevent heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, back pain, and it positively improves mood.
The natural environment improves psychological health. Being in proximity to nature is linked to increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability and the capacity for love.
Time outdoors lowers cortisol levels and reduces stress. The scents of the natural world and the garden increase relaxation.
Pine lowers anxiety. Lily and rose have a calming effect. So does lavender which aids in sleep. Freshly cut grass emits a chemical that induces calm.
A good dose of nature sharpens thinking, improves concentration, memory, and creativity. Green spaces refresh our tired brains and restore mental energy.
The benefits to physical and psychological health from being in green spaces are clear, and compelling. An awareness of the spiritual benefits, however, seems to be lacking in the discussion. There is a significant spiritual component to being in the great outdoors that deserves attention.
The Celts talked about thin places – physical locations where the veil between heaven and earth thinned. Thin places fostered intimacy with God. While I don’t necessarily believe that there are specific geographic locations that have a monopoly on “thinness”, I am certain that time spent in the natural world nourishes our soul and opens us to the presence of God and all that is sacred.
Most of us have experienced graced moments of ineffable beauty and of wondrous awe when in the presence of nature.
These types of experiences take us out of our self and give rise to new insights into reality and being. They help us transcend our own situation, problems, limitations and ego. They remind us that we are intimately connected to creation and to others.
The health benefits of getting back to nature are well documented. The research confirms what we have always known. Being outdoors is good for us and interacting with nature makes us feel better.
It may also make us better people.