Spending time connecting with nature offers myriad benefits for our health and wellbeing. Making the most of green spaces, woodlands, rivers, lakes, beaches and nature reserves is a perfect way to unwind, reflect and benefit your mind and body. Here, we look at why more of us need to embrace all the wonderful gifts that nature has to offer.
A dose of happiness
Being in contact with nature makes us feel better. Researchers at King’s College London found that being outdoors in cities and seeing trees, hearing birdsong, spotting the blue sky and feeling in contact with nature increases our feelings of wellbeing (1).
Regularly connecting with nature helps to increase our happiness levels. In addition, immersing ourselves in the sights and sounds of nature invokes feelings of calm so it’s an ideal tonic to help us wind down at the end of a busy day or week.
Make connecting with nature a habit by taking a daily stroll and paying particular attention to the number of trees you pass, how often you hear birdsong and how their sound changes. If it’s a busy day and you can’t get outdoors, keeping your window open so you can hear the birds singing will still help to maintain that connection. When you have more time to explore what nature has to offer, following a nature trail or a river walk or coastal route is a wonderful way to top up your wellbeing quota.
Connecting with nature also gifts us the perfect opportunity to slow down, stop and attune to the life that’s going on around us. For example, how plants reflect light and spotting how the leaves are changing colour in the autumn. Paying more attention to these smaller details can help us to engage our senses. Making a note of the beautiful things you’ve seen or detailing three nature-related moments that made you smile is a great way to get into daily self reflection.
Relax and observe
Forest bathing, also known as the practice of shinrin-yoku is a Japanese concept that encourages people to spend time in nature. According to research by Japan’s Chiba University, being surrounded by trees can provide benefits with concentration and memory.A chemical that is released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to have benefits for theimmune system. The research findings prompted the Japanese government to incorporate shinrin-yoku into the country’s health programme.(2)
Forest medicine expert, Dr Qing Li is the author of Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing. Dr Qi feels we’re designed to be connected to the natural world and to “listen to the wind and taste the air”. In his book, he advises leaving all devices behind, walking aimlessly and slowly and letting your body be your guide. “You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in,” he says.
Engage with outdoor activities
We could also be physically active and reap the wellness benefits by choosing to run, cycle, walk or have a yoga or meditation session in a nature setting. Alternatively, soak up the benefits of connecting with nature and including activities such as swimming.Camping is another great way to explore what nature has to offer.
Simply sitting on a bench or relaxing on a patch of grass while enjoying alone time with nature and the peace and quiet it brings can also work well. Before you start your day, take five minutes just for you and enjoy sitting in the garden and listening to morning birdsong.
Journaling can also increase wellbeing, meanwhile recording what you find on each nature visit will also help to sharpen your observation skills and enhance your connection with nature and earth.
You can also brush up on your photography skills by capturing beautiful sights that you can reflect on and share with others. You could start by simply going for a walk in a natural space, looking around and selecting something at random that catches your eye. Making a regular habit of doing this will further strengthen your connection as you become more familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of nature.
The choice of what you capture each day is yours!
(1) King’s College London (2018). Study suggests exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities beneficial for mental wellbeing(2) Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences, Chiba University (2010). The physiological effects of shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments from24 forests across Japan