Time Spent in Nature: Any Health Benefits?
By Ore Taiwo Makinde.
Growing up in Nature
My growing-up years hold remarkable memories for me. This is because I spent a lot of my time as a child in nature. In other words; out-doors, with my siblings and friends. My outside environment had lots of open spaces and green places, unlike the cramped environments we frequently encounter these days.
I am holding back waves of nostalgia as I recollect memories of time spent in nature. I remember us playing with sand, climbing trees, jumping on the trampoline, and cycling around the compound where we lived. How about our feeding chickens, ducks and rabbits? I remember searching for lost goats as well. Coming to think about it, we were healthy children and were hardly in hospital.
In those days, we had no television, talk less of a DSTV channel. Our national geographic channel was live 24-7 in our backyard. Times have changed so much that a lot of us are often glued to our laptops and other devices.
Commemorating Nigeria’s Independence
I read a comment in a blog-post recently. The comment was ‘when I am outside, I become a nicer person’. I smiled to myself. Does nature have such an effect on you? Could you possibly become nicer, happier or even healthier when you spend more time outside?
On the 1st of October, a like-minded group of individuals decided to make self-care a priority in our day for the next sixty days to commemorate Nigeria’s 60th year of independence. One of our tasks is to spend time in nature each day if just for five minutes. Now, what would this entail?
- Watching the sunrise or sunset.
- Studying the night skies lit with stars or impregnated with clouds.
- Looking out for a rainbow and studying its wreath of amazing colours.
- Watching an army of soldiers ants cross by.
- Revelling in the beauty of lush green grass.
- Strolling under the trees and around brambles and brushes (or bushes).
- Looking out for squirrels, birds, etc and taking their snapshots.
In this day and age, with the advent of technology, we need to learn why spending time in nature is important for our health. Your time outside is probably characterised by polluted air from fumes, cement dust and other environmental pollutants. Would you be willing to take out just five minutes daily to spend time in nature? Let us see what that would do for your health.
- Spending time outside helps to stabilise your sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to the morning sunlight makes the levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin, to drop and gets you going for the day’s work. As darkness approaches, melatonin levels climb again. However, if you stay inside all day or during a long flight, your sleep-wake cycle can become disrupted.
- Time in nature tends to calm tension accumulated from work and reduces stress levels. A clinical trial suggests that forest environments promote a reduction in the levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol, as well as a lower pulse rate and blood pressure. Spending time in nature will therefore help you cope with stress better. This will also help to elicit your ‘happy hormones’ and further reduce your risk of depression.
- You can boost your immunity by deriving healthy levels of Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a significant role in strengthening our immunity by helping us maintain strong bones and supporting our respiratory function. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was discovered that individuals with lower levels of vitamin D were prone to severe forms of the disease. Little wonder that sickly characters in books like ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Little Women’ were always encouraged to spend time by the sea in their beach-houses.
- You can boost your memory by taking a walk in the park. A study looked at the effect of walking through nature on cognitive function and reported an improvement in recalling answers to a test compared to those who walked through a busy street with cars. This can be explained by the attention restoration theory which suggests that being on a busy street (probably trying to avoid a collision) takes more of your involuntary attention, making you feel more tired. Engaging with nature, however, requires less of your involuntary attention.
- Going outside can help you improve your exercise levels. You are likely to exercise more when you spend time in nature. I have discovered that several individuals are discouraged from taking a walk due to the competing actions of motorcycles and tricycles on the street. Exercise helps you to move more and keeps you fit and trim when carried out consistently. Exercise is Medicine.
- Spending time in green areas is linked to longevity. Green areas include vegetation, trees, flowers and shrubs. The Nurses Health Study of over 100,000 women reported that those who lived within larger spaces of greenery had lower death rates. This was attributed to the lower rates of depression, improved social connections in addition to lower rates of air pollution associated with living in green places.
In conclusion, spending time in nature helps us to appreciate creation and to naturally express more gratitude to God for this wonderful gift. We should therefore nurture mother-nature to get the best from her. Would you like to indulge in nature for the next 60 days? If you go out in the morning and all you see are walls and buildings, start by planting something green in your vicinity. Potted green plants would do the trick as well. Besides, don’t hesitate to look for a park or garden to take regular walks in. It would be fun, trust me.