I grew up in the hustle bustle of city life. Although I purposely made time to escape into nature over the past 4 decades, it hasn’t been until recently that I was finally able to leave city life behind and move in and amongst the trees into the heart of nature. And while I can’t confirm the immediate impacts nature will have on my personal longevity (although I can attest to feeling much better in many ways so far), there is one thing I can tell you; being in nature stacks the odds in favour of offering the ideal platform to live a much happier, healthier life. As scientific evidence so clearly confirms, being in nature will help you live longer, and here are some of the reasons why:
Green Space Reduces Stress
When it comes to health, spending time in nature can impart significant influences. Green space, defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation (as well as urban green spaces; parks and street greenery) can have profound effects on many aspects of human health. Studies have found that people who live closer to nature have lower risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, better sleep duration, improved emotional and psychological health, reduced blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting endpoints found was that exposure to green space significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol (a physiological marker of stress). These same studies have also concluded that living closer to nature reduces the risk of premature death (rate of mortality), which, when it comes to research, is the ultimate declaration on how nature can impart healthy measures on human health.
Getting Dirty Balances Your Bugs
It’s been well established that the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ holds firm when it comes to the benefits that regular exposure of microbes contained within dirt have on health. For those who are unaware of what I’m referring to here, science has reputably proven that regular exposure to microbes (found in dirt, soil, forest grounds) directly influence our health by impacting how our immune system functions and responds to our surroundings. Alternatively, due to the over sanitization within the western world (less exposure to dirt and playing outside, and more time indoors, and using antibacterial cleaning methods) we’ve effectively wiped out our interaction with ‘good’ bugs, and allowed the ‘bad’ bugs the ability to take over and negatively influence our health unguarded. This is a prime reason why western societies are much more susceptible to allergies, auto immune conditions and lack of immune robustness. The more we interact with nature, the higher the likelihood that our immune systems will flourish.
Forest bathing, the term used to describe the practice of immersing oneself in nature, has long been a pivotal health practice used in health care and healing in Japanese medicine. When it comes to spending time in nature, real physiological effects have been repeatedly identified. But how exactly do these benefits work? Research has shown that aromatic oils emitted from trees and plants (you know, the fresh smell of pine, bark, plants and flowers we all experience when in nature?), once inhaled or naturally absorbed through the skin, directly enhance natural killer (NK) cells (an immune cell vital to human health), increase anti cancer parameters, and enable our parasympathetic (anti stress) system to become activated. As little as 15 minutes (to 2-3 days) surrounded in nature can encourage health benefits up to 30 days within the body.
Blue Minds and Blue Zones
Science is confirming that living on or close to a body of water is not only relaxing, but positively alters brain function and creates a multitude of other health promoting benefits. Not only does spending time near water promote physical actively and general fitness, it directly impacts brain waves and their preference toward positive, stress relieving functions. Interestingly, even those who are blind or have other sensory limitations, draw these same benefits, which lends the idea that any combination of air, sound or the sight of water can create the multitude of health promoting parameters. In addition to blue minds, much research has also gone into the connection of ‘blue zones’ in relation to better health and longevity. Blue zones are regions of the world where people live much longer than average. Although blue zones have not yet been fully acknowledged, one of the primary contributors to what makes up a blue zone is regular exposure to sunshine and time spent outside (ie. gardening); so being closer to nature.
So weather you live in the city, or have the luxury of being able to live in or amongst nature, the evidence is clear; spending time in nature not only improves a wide array of healthy endpoints, it can ultimately influence our longevity in a positive, optimal, and health promoting way. So get outside, go on a hike, sit amongst the trees, go to the beach, or somehow get out and spend time connecting with nature.