Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Health benefits of going outside

by Anna-Maija Mattila 

Much research has been done to figure out how the natural environment affects us, especially our health. A large amount of data has been collected and some things have been proven by different experiments but still much is under investigation. Here are some findings about the impact of a natural environment on our physical and mental health, what kind of landscape brings out those effects and how much time it takes to get the benefits.

Improvements to physical health

The forest environment with its scents, sounds and appearance can lower the blood pressure and stress level. A decreased stress level itself can protect people from stress-based diseases but also promote the functioning of the human immune system, which contributes to reducing the risks of illnesses caused by viruses and bacteria, or even cancer. Getting outdoors can also reduce cardiovascular diseases and mortality rate, but also help people who suffer, for example, from diabetes.

Maintenance of mental health

Nature seems to have even greater effects on mental health than physical. It helps to maintain good feelings and strengthen them, but also to make negative thoughts more positive. That could mean, for example, reducing aggression and depression, helping people recover from stress and mental exhaustion. And what is important (especially for us students) nature could promote memory and attentiveness, raise energy levels and clarify thinking.

What kind of environment is the best?

According to some experiments, even viewing a picture of natural scenery or nature through a window had some beneficial effects. Also listening to recorded sounds of nature or watching a video could make change for the better. Still, the most efficient environment seemed to be a forest with good natural diversity. Even just sitting there could improve mood. But exercising in green surroundings was found to magnify the positive health effects of exercising and also seemed to make it easier to commit to exercising and to keep to an exercise routine.

How much time is needed to get the benefits?

There is no need to wander around in the woods for many hours to start getting the positive effects. Even ten minutes in the natural world could lower your blood pressure, and that doubled could lighten your mood. An hour raises attentiveness and two hours could improve the functioning of the immune system. The longer one spends in a natural environment, the longer-lasting the effects are likely to be. A three-day walking trip is able to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and sugar levels for days.