Caught you — you’re looking at a screen again, aren’t you? As a society, we’ve been doing more of that and less of what we should be doing — seeing, feeling, and experiencing the natural world. Did you know that spending time in nature has been linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being? There are other physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature too. In fact, just feeling connected to nature — having beautiful views and access to the great outdoors — can produce similar benefits to our sense of well-being.
What are some of these benefits of being in nature and living where the wonder of nature is part of the everyday landscape? Let’s see what researchers say.
The happiness factor.
Although research is still fine-tuning our understanding of the potential benefits of being in nature, there’s general agreement that spending time outdoors is linked to a host of health benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Perhaps the most encouraging benefit from developing a sense of connection with the natural world is the feeling of happiness it engenders, even if we’re not physically immersed in nature. A University of Washington review of the research shared evidence that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.
Benefits to the brain.
Increasing one’s exposure to nature may improve concentration by giving the brain a well-needed break. In a study of adults assigned to public housing units in neighborhoods with more green space, subjects showed better attentional control than those assigned to units with less access to natural environments. And experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments also improves working memory and cognitive flexibility. Even the sounds of nature may be recuperative. Another study found that participants who listened to nature sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better on cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds like traffic and the clatter of a busy café.
Speaking of memory.
University of Michigan researchers gave student study participants a brief memory test and then divided them into two groups. One group took a walk around an arboretum, and the other took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and took the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% percent better than they had the first time. The people who had walked city streets instead did not consistently improve. A similar study on depressed individuals found that walks in nature boosted working memory much more than walks in an urban environment.
Boosting the immune system?
The scientific jury is still out on whether or not, or to what degree, exposure to nature can benefit the human immune system. But a review of the literature related to this effect notes the total findings strongly suggest forest environments do have beneficial effects on human immune function.
Fighting depression and anxiety.
It’s been found that walks in the woods are associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and also that outdoor walks could be useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments for major depressive disorders. An analysis of 10 different studies about “green exercise” determined that a very green environment improved both self-esteem and mood, particularly in people already suffering from some degree of mental illness.
Lowering blood pressure.
A Japanese study of 280 participants found that along with decreasing stress hormone concentrations by more than 15%, a walk in the forest lowered participants’ average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by just over 2%.
Better healing, more graceful aging.
A Harvard study has shown that people exposed to more natural light healed faster from spinal surgery and reportedly had less pain than patients not receiving that exposure. And when it comes to the aches and pains of aging, being outside may be a key to feeling better. One study showed 70-year-old participants who spent time outside every day had fewer complaints of common aging pains such as muscle and bone aches than those who remained inside.
Feeling more connected.
Being in nature may well help buffer the effects of loneliness and social isolation. In a survey of 359 U.K. residents, researchers found that when people with low social connectedness spent time in nearby natural settings, they reported a higher level of general well-being and of feeling connected.
Head for the mountains?
Most people think of the mountains as a place that offers a sense of inner peace, relaxation and calmness. As a result, individuals suffering from stress or anxiety typically feel better when they’re surrounded by the sights and sounds of majestic mountains. But can being near mountains provide benefits to physical health? Recent research has suggested spending time at high altitudes can promote weight loss by decreasing appetite and increasing metabolic rate.
Another study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that living or spending time at higher altitudes can support heart health and potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. The study describes how lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes that change properties of the heart muscles, which can result in the production of new blood vessels and more pathways for blood to travel to the heart.
Retirement living in the beauty of nature.
Imagine waking up each day where just going for a walk or looking out the window supports your physical and emotional well-being. Where the natural world becomes part of your everyday experience — towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak and brilliant blue skies. Garden of the Gods, a registered National Natural Landmark, is right down the road. That’s independent living at Aberdeen Ridge. How fresh and beautiful will that feel? Have a look at some of our community views right now.
Aberdeen Ridge will offer a retirement lifestyle that’s maintenance-free, filled with life-enriching amenities, and set amid the stunning beauty of the Colorado landscape. And if you should ever need on-site assisted living or memory care, it’s here for you. This is senior living with a different view, and it’s all just outside your door. Learn more about residency at Aberdeen Ridge. Call 719-286-3014 or contact us online.