May 9, 2019

The joy of getting out in nature

Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours at Enys Gardens in Penryn, near Falmouth, with a family friend from years ago. Looking at this beautiful carpet of bluebells was wonderfully soothing for my soul. 

Whenever I need a bit of time to reflect, have an issue I can’t quite work out, or just need to fill up my happiness bank, I get myself outside. It feels instinctive for me to do this, and without fail, I always feel better as a result. But why is getting out in nature so good for our mind, body and soul?

It can feel easier to exercise outside and that has obvious health benefits. Years of trying different gym memberships, giving up, and then switching to outdoor running convinced me! For me, exercising outdoors is THE way I can motivate myself to keep well physically. Once I’m outside, come rain or shine, I sometimes actually enjoy myself! And I never regret it afterwards.

It’s a great stress reliever. Scientists have found that cortisol levels drop when we’re outside. Our breathing regulates, our heart rate slows, and our blood pressure can drop. The mindful nature of a walk in the park, a swim in the sea, or sitting in the garden helps calm our fight or flight response, and brings us back into balance. Research also shows that natural scents – like flowers, cut grass and sea air – makes us feel calmer.

It's good for our brain. Being in nature calms our busy brain and helps to sharpen our focus and recall. Traffic, street noise, lights, and people compete for our attention and just encourages that monkey mind to become more overloaded and forgetful.

Being outdoors – even in British weather – boosts our immune system. A 2010 study found that a three-day trip to the forest increased the number of white blood cells (which help your body battle germs) in the bloodstream. These levels of white blood cells stayed elevated for more than 30 days after the particpants' adventure in the woods. 

It apparently enhances creativity and concentration. This reinforces my earlier observations of being better able to sort out problems when I'm outside. According to another study, creative problem solving and cognitive function can be boosted by nearly 50 percent after spending several days outdoors. 

Being outdoors helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I can also vouch for this. Although I can’t claim to have suffered from severe SAD, when I didn’t used to get outside as much as I do now, the winters were a struggle. The more sun you can get the better, but even cloudy days have a positive impact.

You get your daily dose of Vitamin D which is essential for strong bones, teeth and muscles.

It’s a great leveller. Being outdoors helps us relax and forget who we are at work, as a parent, and other such pressures. I can vouch for this personally, and when I take my trying-too-hard-to-be-grown-up children out for a walk or go to the beach, they relax and become kids again. 

I’d encourage everyone to get outdoors as much as possible, especially now that we’re in May. Ditch the telly, leave the phone at home, grab a jumper, and get out there!

As as Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."

image: enysbluebellsblog.jpg

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