The English writer Edward Forster wrote the disturbing story “The Car Stops” in 1909. He painted a picture of the future: people spend their entire lives in isolated underground rooms, communicating with each other through devices that resemble modern smartphones. All worship the Machine, which provides everything necessary for survival, but prevents personal communication and contact with nature.
Hmm. It would seem that this is just a fantasy, but here’s the reality: a 2018 survey of 2,000 Canadians showed that 87% of respondents in nature feel happier, healthier and more productive. But three quarters of them (75%) said that despite everything, it is easier for them to stay indoors. So we have become an indoor species even without the omnipotent Machine.
It is obvious that it is useful to communicate with nature, but we had no idea how much. Scientists have accumulated a lot of data confirming that nature can become an effective and completely free medicine for many diseases of the 21st century. Here are some facts from the book “Brainwash” about what happens while we walk.
Nature boosts our mood with the help of the sun. When its rays fall on the skin, the body produces vitamin D, which is important for many biological processes, including directly related to the ability of the brain to produce serotonin. A lack of vitamin D can contribute to depression. To improve mood, drugs are most often prescribed to increase the amount of serotonin in the body. However, there are studies suggesting that simply increasing your vitamin D levels is also great for improving mood. Sunlight allows you to do this.
Nature has anti-inflammatory properties. This conclusion has been supported by many studies. A 2012 experiment measured differences in markers of stress and inflammation in the blood of college students sent either to the forest or to the city. Before the experiment, laboratory data showed no significant difference for the two groups. But after two nights in the woods or in the city, everything began to look completely different.
Grabbing a tent and heading into the forest is a great weekend idea. – A source
In the “forest” group, the level of inflammation markers TNF-α (an increase in the level causes alertness in relation to oncology, clinical depression, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.) and interleukin-6 (an increase is associated with cancer and sudden death from senile diseases) significantly dropped compared to the “urban” group.
In the “forest” group, the level of both endothelin-1, a marker of inflammation in vascular diseases, and cortisol, which is involved in the destruction of connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, were lowered.
The brain starts to work better
One 2012 study involved a group of 56 men and women engaged in creative work. Experimenters have found that “four days of immersion in nature and the corresponding separation from multimedia and technology increases productivity [решения творческих задач] by 50% “.
The positive impact of nature on the ability to concentrate and concentrate has long been recorded. There is even a theory of attention restoration, developed by psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in an era of rapid technological development, increased indoor activity and concern about the lack of contact with nature. The Kaplanov theory hypothesizes that nature not only hones our ability to concentrate and concentrate, but also helps to restore attention after spending mental energy – for example, after sleepless nights over some project.
Nature rebuilds the brain by strengthening the very connections that are needed for focus and concentration – found in the prefrontal cortex.
A 2016 study looked at the mental health impact of nature islets in the workplace. Flowers in pots and art photographs were considered such islands. The hypothesis about the positive impact of the elements of nature was confirmed: there was a decrease in depression and anxiety, as well as greater job satisfaction.
Can’t be out in nature often? Bring nature home. – A source
Nice to know: even a simple landscape or a small plant can play a significant role. Don’t be fooled, though, a wall calendar with exotic species isn’t the equivalent of a true getaway. And yet there are no substitutes for fresh air, sunshine and wild vegetation.
While walking in the forest, you actively inhale not only oxygen, but also essential oils of plants (like in a spa, only for free). A study looking at the effects of inhaling cedar nut oil vapor found that it increased the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system, which is responsible for relaxation, balances the stress-related sympathetic system (“fight or flight”). Parasympathetic activity (and it is expressed, for example, in the reaction of pupils to light or in intestinal motility) was also increased under the influence of the smell of cypress oil.
Since 2010, studies have been conducted on the effects of scents on the functioning of the human brain, and the results have been staggering. Simply inhaling a particular scent affects brain waves and brain activity: there is a shift from those associated with disease and cognitive decline to those associated with health and well-being. How is this possible? It turns out that odorous components are able to overcome the blood-brain barrier (a barrier that traps potentially dangerous substances) and affect the receptors of the central nervous system.
A 2016 review of several studies stated, “Olfactory stimulation leads to rapid changes in physiological parameters such as blood pressure, muscle tension, pupil dilation, skin temperature, heart rate, and brain activity.” The article details these connections, explaining the ways in which different scents – from bunches of fresh lavender and chamomile to incense and essential oils – affect different parts of the brain.
In another experiment, the relationship between the amount of time people spent in green areas and the risk of developing depression was traced. The authors did not discover America – a significantly lower risk of depression was found in those who spent at least five hours a week in nature. A natural conclusion followed: “Nature, even the closest to us, offers enormous potential for an easily accessible and cost-effective approach to disease prevention.”
Large-scale pictures of nature inspire us with awe. And this affects our behavior. Dr. Paul Piff’s team has demonstrated that instilling “awe” leads to increased ethical decision-making, generosity and prosocial action. Initiating this feeling by visiting a clump of tall trees resulted in “an improvement in prosocial behavior and a decrease in the feeling that everyone owes you.”
Faced with something beautiful, we ourselves become better. – A source
In 2012, researchers confirmed that this feeling can be measured. Awe made the participants feel like they had more time than other emotions. Members of the same group admitted that a sense of awe made them volunteer, and that they “more strongly preferred experiences to material objects.” Scientists concluded: “A sense of awe binds people to the present, [заставляя] experience life more satisfying than at other times. “
Another series of experiments conducted by Dr. Piff examined how the beauty of nature changes the worldview of people. The researchers found that “exposure to more beautiful species (versus less beautiful) made the participants more generous and trusting,” “exposure to more beautiful plants (versus less beautiful) in the laboratory resulted in participants showing a willingness to help.” … This study once again proved that nature has an impact on measurable prosocial behavior. Whether we are enjoying the sunset or traveling (ideally not alone), we literally become better versions of ourselves.
You get healthier
In 1984, Dr. Roger Ulrich published a landmark article in the medical journal Science, “Window View May Affect Surgery Recovery.” Dr. Ulrich studied the histories of the operated patients at the Pennsylvania Hospital. All patients were in the same wards, only some rooms overlooked a brick wall, and trees grew under other windows. Patients in wards overlooking the vegetation recovered and were discharged earlier and required fewer pain relievers. Their caregivers were one third less likely to leave remarks like “upset and crying” and “need more encouragement” in their medical records.
In many diseases, treating the acute phase is only part of the battle, and after surgery, stroke, heart attack, or cancer, the rehabilitation process is important. And here walks in nature can play a huge role.
You become happier
In 2014, a meta-analysis was conducted that summarized the results of several studies on the relationship between nature and happiness. The experiments involved about 8,500 people. Scientists concluded: “Those who are more closely connected with nature tend to get more positive feelings, they are more energetic and feel more satisfied with life compared to those who are less connected with nature.”
The connection with nature is easy to feel – just go outside on a fine day. – A source
In another original study, researchers asked 20,000 participants about their mood at random intervals and then compared their location information. To determine the latter, a GPS navigation system was used. An analysis of about a million responses showed that people felt significantly happier when their GPS coordinates were determined near greenery or in their natural environment, and not among urban buildings.
You extend your life
More globally, scientists have studied how nature affects life expectancy and drew startling conclusions. A massive 2008 study published in The Lancet covered 40 million Britons. Residents were classified by how “green” their habitat is – that is, literally by the number of green spaces within a radius of several kilometers from their homes. The inhabitants of the greenest areas were characterized by the lowest mortality rate from diseases of the circulatory system; they also live longer than people with less green environments.
Another large study, conducted in 2017, covered 1.7 million Canadians. Scientists have found that people with a lot of greenery around their homes reduce the risk of premature death by 10%. Another large-scale experiment analyzed data on 4.2 million Swiss. The conclusion turned out to be similar: greening in places of residence reduces the risk of premature death, even while controlling pollution and other harmful effects on the environment.
Leaving home, you come home
Nature is what unites us. We left her, she is our first home. For millions of years, our genes have evolved under the influence of nature, so it’s no wonder that time outside the stone jungle is in our favor.
Spending time in nature is one of the easiest things to do for your health and happiness. You just need to leave the house.
Nature doesn’t just surround us; we are nature too. Our organisms are microcosms of a vast ecosystem. Our cellular structure, down to the structure of DNA, reflects the perfection of Mother Nature, but we also give shelter to trillions of microorganisms – they live inside us and on us, find shelter among our cells. These microorganisms have been our company for millions of years. We need to recognize beauty. The amazing and health-enhancing power of the world around us must be recognized.
We hope this article has inspired you to go for a walk today.
Based on the book “Brainwashing”
Post cover –unsplash.com