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Your Brain and Body Are Better in Nature

Talk to any hiker, camper, fisherman, or outdoorsman about what draws them to nature and I guarantee that all of them will begin listing its psychological benefits.

Image by Gary Yeowell/ Getty Images
Image by Gary Yeowell/ Getty Images

Talk to any hiker, camper, fisherman, or outdoorsman about what draws them to nature, and I guarantee that all of them will begin listing its psychological benefits. In situations where you’ve felt overwhelmed by challenges in your professional or personal life, haven’t you desperately needed that breath of fresh air to take your mind off everything—that fleeting moment to slip away from everything and reset? Even if it’s just stepping outside to clear your head in the middle of a stressful work day, you are experiencing what others regularly encounter in nature, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Between work and home, people spend the majority of their time indoors, especially residents living in more urban areas. As the stressors of the day pile up and weigh on our shoulders, it begins to take a toll on our mental and physical health. If we don’t take care of our minds and bodies, we create an internal breeding ground for stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.

Avid outdoorsman have always sworn by nature’s restorative benefits, but now scientific studies are backing up these allegations. David Strayer, a researcher at the University of Utah, has seen evidence that proves we are “physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.” Our bodies and brains respond positively to being in the great outdoors, whether it’s for a few short minutes or for an entire weekend. Though, the longer you are in nature, the more you will feel its restorative benefits.

Some are skeptical of this data, and a small number only prefer small bouts of outdoor exposure, but if being in nature makes you feel good (and you’ve found the right balance that works for you), make sure to make that time for yourself. Living out my passion as a serial entrepreneur and the founder, funder, and chairman of CAbi, I have learned that cultivating a happier and healthier lifestyle requires prioritizing spending time in nature, regardless of how hectic your schedule may seem—and here’s why:

Nature recalibrates your mental health

Walking can help curtail the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. You may think a brisk walk anywhere outside counts as your “nature fix,” but where you walk actually matters. People who walk through neighborhoods surrounded by traffic and buildings are less happy than those who take a stroll through a county park. You may think a quick walk around your neighborhood will be enough to clear your head, but your brain will still pick up on any loud noises and commotion happening around you. While you may not be directly involved in the clamor, it still hinders your ability to unwind; if your mind can’t relax, neither can your body.

While walking outdoors in the right setting for as little as 20 minutes has been shown to relieve stress, people who hike through the middle of nature tend to experience more substantial feelings of peace and happiness. But mental health benefits aren’t restricted to exercise alone. When we replace our television and computer screens with natural scenery, we are able to recover more quickly from the chaos of our daily lives.

Nature connects us with others

Some seek solitude in nature in order to recenter themselves; others find that nature increases their ability to connect with others. By disconnecting ourselves from the distractions of society, we can begin to cultivate more intimate relationships with the people around us.

I have seen proof of this over the last 35 years with The Wild Adventure. Typically, the men who sign up for the TWA retreat are already devoted outdoorsmen, but I have seen how their time spent in nature has positively influenced their transparency in discussions with other people. Because the mind is clearer and more intuitive in nature, it opens up room for open and meaningful interactions.

Nature slows us down

When Strayer explains our brains, he wants people to understand this: that they aren’t “tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued.” Our mental capacity can only handle so much exertion; the “go-go-go” mentality might seem like a productive approach to getting things done, but it actually hinders us from being creative and energetic. Removing ourselves from our day-to-day lives allows us to slow down and focus on what’s at the forefront of our minds, rather than forcing our brains to multitask. When we slow down and allow our minds to recover, creativity and productivity can be reawakened.

For centuries, humans have celebrated how beneficial nature is to our health, happiness, and longevity. Science isn’t entirely there yet, but research is gradually proving that our intuition has been right all along.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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