Employee Wellness: Connecting with Nature
Did you know that you can reap a variety of health benefits by spending just 120 minutes a week outdoors? You may think you need to go for a long hike to spend time in nature, but it can actually be much easier to fit the great outdoors into our busy schedules. Spending time in nature can take on many forms. Connecting with animals by installing a bird feeder, eating lunch outside during your work break, growing or picking your own food, and going to the park or beach are just a few of the many possibilities. Finding activities in the great outdoors that work well for your lifestyle is an investment in your mental and physical health. Let’s explore just how healing nature can be.
Time in nature improves our mental health.
People who feel they are connected to nature tend to be happier in life and are more likely to report feeling as though their lives are worthwhile. Reduced stress and feelings of isolation, increased happiness, positive social interactions, and improved cognitive function are all benefits that have been linked to time spent in nature. In addition, nature can spark a sense of calmness, joy, and creativity and can even facilitate better concentration.
Time in nature improves our sleep.
Quality sleep is essential to our wellbeing. One of the functions of our circadian rhythm (aka, our internal clock) is to regulate our sleep and alertness during the day. Not only does spending time outside in both the sun and darkness help maintain our circadian rhythm, but artificial light has the ability to throw off our circadian rhythm and disrupt our sleep. Two subsequent studies found that camping in the summer for a week with no smartphones reset people’s internal clocks to be in tune with nature’s. They found increased levels of melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy, around sunset which resulted in the campers falling asleep earlier and sleeping longer. Spending time in nature and reducing screen time may help us get a better night’s rest which can in turn enhance our brain performance, mood, and health, and can lessen the risk of many diseases and disorders over time.
Time in nature improves our physical health.
Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Nicknamed the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is important for our skeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, and immune functions. A vitamin D deficiency is correlated with more than 53 disease states. Despite this, approximately 35% of adults in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency. Spending time in nature is an effective way to increase your levels of vitamin D.
Getting fresh air is another way that immersing ourselves in nature improves our physical health. Diaphragmatic breathing is more common outdoors, which leads to us to receiving more oxygen and expelling more toxins. This increase in oxygen improves the function and efficiency of every cell in our bodies which leads to better functions of hormone production, digestion, tissue renewal, muscle contraction, etc. Additionally, bacteria and viruses have a reduced chance of survival in fresh air which can reduce our risk for airborne illness and infection.
Feeling motivated to get outdoors yet? Check out this list of activities for inspiration.
Written by: Jackie Klayman, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern