March 20th is the Spring Equinox, which means it is the start of Spring for the Northern Hemisphere, and on this day, the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world. The Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun and feels its warmth. Did you know that your health and well-being are directly affected by the amount of time you spend in nature? One study of 20,000 people showed that people who spent just 120 minutes per week (17 minutes a day!) in natural environments experienced better physical health and psychological well-being compared with people who did not spend time in nature. Here are just a few ways that immersing yourself in nature can improve your health:
Spending time in nature has been proven to lessen feelings of depression and increase happiness. Those results increased even more when people were walking in nature. Being amongst the trees, flowers, birds, sky and sunshine can also help you concentrate better, especially if you set your phone to “do not disturb” and let your mind relax. Our modern world is extremely overstimulating, and being in nature simplifies your surroundings and can bring peace and enhance focus.
Try: checking out the app AllTrails to find a new trail near you (the app shows reviews and lists difficulty levels as well as lots of other great info about the trails) and plan a walk or a hike with a friend.
When your skin is exposed to sunlight (specifically UVB rays), it makes Vitamin D from cholesterol. Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for your immune system to function, especially in the context of autoimmunity because it helps regulate inflammatory responses. The optimal time of day for your skin to absorb the UVB rays is midday (around noon). Exposing at least ⅓ of your body to sunlight around noon for 10-20 minutes several times a week will help your body absorb Vitamin D. Since the head is a small part of the body, it is recommended to wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes, and expose other parts of your body (like arms and legs) to the sun. Vitamin D also prevents osteoporosis, cancer, depression and muscle weakness.
Try: sitting outside for lunch this week or going for a 10-minute walk around your home or office midday a few times during the week.
Healing & Recovery
Studies have shown that people exposed to more natural light heal faster and experience less pain. In addition, people who spend time outside on a daily basis as they age have less of the typical aging pains (joint pains, trouble sleeping, etc.); essentially being in nature actually makes us feel more youthful. It is also a natural antidote to stress, and it can lower blood pressure and reduce nervous system arousal. These combined effects give your body a relaxed state in which to heal and recover faster and more easily.
Try: stepping outside each morning this week to consciously feel the ground under your feet and the sun on your skin, hear the birds singing and see the patterns in leaves. If you feel inspired to do more, try planting something outside to connect directly with nature in a tangible way or meditate outside to focus on healing your mind and body in natural surroundings.
Now that you have some practical ideas of how nature benefits your health and well-being, go put them into practice and enjoy the beautiful outdoors! It only takes 2 hours a week, and you can divide that up in any way that works for you. Your body and mind will thank you!