Beyond a doubt, spending time in nature, especially among trees, improves health. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation cites nearly 30 studies that link spending time in nature to:

1. Stronger immunity

2. Lowered blood pressure

3. Less stress

4. Better mood, with less depression and/or anxiety

5. Better focus, even in children with ADHD

6. Faster healing

7. More energy

8. Better sleep

Florence Williams, author of the Nature Fix, says in a TEDx Talk: “Nature has superpowers for us. There’s even a dose effect,” with more time in nature resulting in increasingly powerful health benefits.

Most of us miss out on the nature cure. A study sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans spend 93 percent of their lives indoors or in a car. Only 10 percent of American teens spend any time outside daily, according to a survey by the Nature Conservancy. On average, young children in the U.S. get just four to seven minutes of unstructured outdoor play per day.

So how do we get more time in nature?

Several times a week, gift yourself with 15 minutes or more outside in nature – sitting, walking, biking, kayaking, etc. In a study led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University, people who walked in a forest for just 15 minutes showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate; the control group that walked in the city center did not experience such health benefits. Also, as often as possible, take up “forest bathing” by sitting in a wooded park for two hours simply being with nature and taking it in through the five senses.

Another idea is to go camping for three days. This is the preferred method for cognitive psychology David Strayer, who took Outward Bound participants out for three days of wilderness backpacking. In Strayer’s study, participants performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after the trip. Japanese researchers also studied the three-day effect. Participants who vacationed for three days in nature had a 40 percent increase in immune cells called killer cells; the control group that vacationed in the city did not.

Williams suggests enrolling your kids in outdoors camps or outdoors after-school programs and giving kids unstructured outside playtime. Walk the dog as a family, and go on picnics, sunset walks, stargazing expeditions and other nature adventures together. She also encourages people to plan regular outdoors activities with friends.

Safety Tips

When out in nature, to stay safe and comfortable, you’ll want to:

1. Take enough water and snacks.

2. Check the weather and plan around it. The American Council on Exercise advises healthy adults to avoid exercising outside when the heat stress index (which takes into consideration both temperature and humidity) hits 90° F – lower for the elderly or the heat susceptible. Instead, go outside early in the morning or in the evening. Also, know the symptoms of heat illness.

3. Bring a friend, or tell someone where you are going and take a cell phone with you, advises the Nature Conservancy.

4. Wear sunscreen and a hat.

5. Dress appropriately. Consider light-colored clothing and appropriate footwear, advises the Nature Conservancy, along with long sleeves and, to ward off ticks, long pants tucked into socks when going into wooded or grassy areas. Also, consider using insect repellent.

6. Respect nature. Stay on trails, watch for wildlife, keep a safe distance from wildlife, control pets and pack out your trash.

7. Follow these tips for safe camping.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

To the extent you’re able to, take time to explore nature regularly. Your health will thank you.

[KR1]Link to sunscreen article