I used to think getting outside was the personal preference for a few of us who were wired that way. That some people choose that option because we feel a connection with the natural world.
But I’ve since discovered that all of us — independent of our culture, race or location — respond positively to nature. That, in fact, it was known as far back as the ancient world that nature benefits people in many ways.
Nature benefits us in many ways
Here’s the short list of what researchers are finding are some of the benefits of nature — of being outside in “green” areas (especially in wilderness settings — although green areas are important in cities too):
- It helps us cope with and recover from stress
- It gives us a sense of relaxation and calm
- It enhances our emotional well-being and happiness
- It helps us forget our current problems
- It gives us the opportunity to reflect on personal matters
- It helps us recover from mental fatigue
- It helps us focus on the positive
- It enhances our curiosity and creativity
- It engages our mind while letting it think about other things, allowing our attention to “rest”
- It helps us think through and gain perspective on our problems
- It helps rejuvenate mind, body and spirit
And you don’t have to be in the middle of a natural setting to gain some of these benefits. These benefits begin to take shape just looking out the windows at a “green” space.
It’s even good for us to look at pictures in a book or watch a film about nature.
The “why” depends on your worldview
The “why” you come up with depends on your worldview assumptions.
If you believe in naturalistic evolution, it’s because eons of human evolution hasn’t disconnected us from the fact that our earliest ancestors depended on nature for survival. Or something like that.
The biblical worldview says it’s because God created us in His image — part of which is to love beauty, diversity and creativity.
He created us with five physical senses that all help us take in and respond to our environment. Not just respond for survival, but respond in appreciation, wonder and pleasure. (I’ve never thought those types of responses make any evolutionary sense at all…)
God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, full of trees that were both good for food and beautiful to look at, and instructed them to care for it.
That He created the animals “and brought them to the man” shows God intended there to be a connection between us and the animals. Anyone who’s had a pet knows about that first hand.
Our physical, emotional and spiritual responses to the natural world have been wired into us by a loving God.
Take advantage of your natural wiring
This means it’s to our benefit to take the time, to make the choice to get outside on a regular basis.
Whether it’s as simple as sitting out in the yard next to a pot of flowers or going for a walk…or as ambitious as taking a vacation to a National Park — all these choices will aid our ability to regulate stress, even out moods, stay positive even in the middle of hard situations.
I love that when God tells us in His word to rejoice always, to be thankful, to not be anxious…He’s given us resources that make it easier for us obey those instructions.
One of those resources is as simple as being in the natural world.
If I’m starting to feel depressed by a situation, now I know that getting outside will help me fight that depression.
Or if I’m mad at a person or situation, now I know that being in the natural world tends to help me say “no” to that anger.
If I’m stuck on a problem and am having trouble finding a solution, now I know that getting outside can help me clear my mind and refocus.
This is very good news! Especially for someone like me who only needs the flimsiest of excuses to get outside to begin with.
If you look back at that list of benefits at the beginning of this article, I can say I’ve experienced everything on that list by being outdoors. Especially in places of beauty and quiet that are away from the bustle of our man-made lives.
Now I know it’s not just me, but they can be for all of us, if we’ll take advantage of this marvelous gift of the natural world.
The documentation for this article is from a report called “From Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for health and well-being” by Mardie Townsend and Rona Weerasuriya. The report was funded by and is copyrighted by Beyond Blue Limited: The National Depression Initiative, Melbourne, Australia (2010). The report is available as a free pdf download.
(PHOTO: North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota)