On average, we spend 5 per cent of our day outside. What effect might that have on our bodies and minds? Florence Williams spent the last three years writing about our relationship to the natural world—motivated in part by her own move away from a lush natural setting: a view of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to Washington, DC.
We don’t all need to have a view of the Rockies from our back porch to soak in the benefits of nature. Williams says that within just five minutes of being outside—be it a walk in a park, or just getting some fresh air on a work break, we experience immediate benefits: the heart rate slows, our muscles start to relax, and regions of the brain involved in decision-making and emotions begins to simmer. Having a few minutes of respite in a natural environment can have a huge payoff in our day-to-day lives in terms of productivity levels and well-being. Consider this: kids in Finland get 15 minutes of recess for every 45 minutes of class, and they have the highest test scores in the world.
3 Key Health Benefits of a Nature Break
In her new book, The Nature Fix, Williams explores the healing power of wild places. Here are three findings from the science of nature looking at our health:
- Nature makes you happier and less brooding: Spending 60 minutes in nature helps you disengage from brooding, ruminating thoughts and cultivate a deeper social connection to those around you.
- Short nature walks over the month boost well-being: Being in nature for five hours a month can make you happier overall, according to Finnish researchers. They suggest breaking that into a few short trips per week. “A 40- to 50-minute walk seems to be enough for physiological changes and mood changes and probably for attention,” Kalevi Korpela, a professor of psychology at the University of Tampere, told Williams in a National Geographic article last year.
- Stop and smell the trees: The smell of pine trees strengthens your immune system.