According to the book Your Brain on Nature, humans have built into their DNA a natural affinity for all living things. This innate emotional connection with the natural world, coined by Edward Wilson in 1984 as biophilia, can influence cognition and behavior. In other words, it’s this connection with nature has a large impact on brain development and function.
When I was a kid growing up in western NY, my brother and I would always be outside no matter what the weather. We’d puddle jump in the spring, build forts in the woods behind our house in summer, jump in piles of leaves in autumn, and pull each other around in a sled in the winter. Being outside was a part of who we were and helped to shape our love for nature and our careers – him as a professional geologist and me as an environmental scientist. Somewhere along the line, I’ve started to lose that deep connection with nature that I had as a kid. Life got busier and my connection with nature lessened. The time I used to spend climbing trees, skipping rocks, or walking through the grass barefoot has been replaced by sitting at a computer, training in a gym and commuting by car or train.
In my adult life, my relationship with nature has had a significant impact on my happiness, stress levels, and health. With the increasing body of literature on this, it turns out that I’m not alone. A large body of scientific evidence points to the connection between health and well-being and the amount of time we spend connecting with nature. Research continues to provide evidence that spending time in nature is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. It lowers cortisol and blood pressure, makes us happier, and improves our ability to stay focused.
Humans are part of an ecosystem of natural elements, relationships and forces. We are meant to breathe fresh air, not recycled air in a building. We are designed to operate best in natural sunlight not fluorescent lighting. Our bodies crave water and food straight from the Earth rather than food manufactured in a factory.
When we breathe fresh air, bask in natural sunlight, and eat food straight from the Earth we see and feel the effects. Our intrinsic mechanisms for disease prevention and homeostasis turn on which restores focus, helps us relax, reduces stress, and makes us happy.
Incorporating whole body movement while surrounded by nature is one of the best ways to improve our health. It improves mood, offers indescribable beauty, and adds another dimension to what seems like a two-dimensional world. So if you’re feeling down, stressed out, overwhelmed, confused or anxious then go give that tree in your front yard a big ol’ hug. If you’re not the “tree-hugging-in-your-front-yard” type then head the nearest hiking trail, park or beach and spend at least 20 minutes moving in that fresh, free air.