The Healing Power of Wild Places

Spending time in nature makes us happier, boosts our immune system, and increases our attention span.

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On average, we spend just 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.

In her book, The Nature Fix, she explores the healing power of wild places. Here are three ways spending time in nature impacts our health:

The Health Benefits of a Nature Break

You don’t need to live in a cabin in the woods to soak in all the benefits nature has to offer.

Williams says that within the first five minutes of being outside—be it on a bike ride to work, a walk around the block, or an adventurous hike in the woods—we experience immediate benefits. Our heart rate slows, our muscles start to relax, and regions of the brain involved in decision-making and emotions begins to quiet down.

Within the first five minutes of being outside, we experience immediate benefits.

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.

Here are three ways nature can improve your health:

  1. It makes you more connected. Spending 60 minutes in nature helps you disengage from brooding, ruminating thoughts so you can feel less isolated, and cultivate a deeper social connection to those around you.
  2. It makes you happier overall. Being in nature for five hours a month can make you happier overall, according to Finnish researchers. Taking a forty minute walk a few times a week is all you need.
  3. It can even strengthen your immune system. The next time you walk through a forest, stop and breathe deeply through your nose: the smell of pine trees strengthens your immune system.