The fountain of youth is found outdoors. Nature experience in specific doses and places can add years to your life and life to your years, according to recent research. Check out five ways nature might help increase your lifespan—and make old age better!
Lower risk of cancer
One of the biggest causes of death is cancer. However, time in nature has been found to lower the risk of certain types of cancer. A 2018 study from Spain followed a group of 1,129 women with breast cancer and 1,619 women without breast cancer from 2008 to 2013. They tracked the time they spent in nature as well as various health indicators and found that time in nature decreases one’s risk of breast cancer.
It’s important to note this study differentiated between urban green spaces and green spaces further away from cities, though both can promote a healthy lifestyle. Time away from urban centers was found to be more beneficial. Spending time in nature, away from cities, might help prevent cancer.
Improves cognition and memory
Another common risk with aging is dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, time in nature has been found to help prevent these conditions too! Nature provides many benefits, including maintaining good cognition and a strong memory.
A 2021 review of the literature studied 22 research papers on green spaces and Alzheimer’s disease. These studies suggested that daily exposure to green spaces lowers one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study from 2006 looked specifically at how gardening impacted one’s risk of dementia. Gardening lowers one’s risk of getting dementia by 36%.
While there is some debate over why nature lowers one’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease–is it from exposure to sunlight, fresh air, sensory stimulation, or something else?–one thing is clear: time in nature can help improve cognitive processes.
Improves cardiovascular health
Heart health is an important indicator of life expectancy, healthspan, and quality of life. Spending time in green spaces, green areas, or indoor areas with greenness has been linked to better cardiovascular health and a lower risk of heart disease.
A 2018 study looked specifically at which environmental factors had the biggest impact on cardiovascular health. It found sunlight exposure and geographic features such as altitude were key indicators of cardiovascular health. Nature spots that get less sunlight and have lower altitudes were not as effective. In order to strengthen your heart health, consider spending more time in sunlight or adventuring into the mountains.
Lower risk of diabetes
Sunlight provides a variety of benefits beyond improved cardiovascular health. While sunlight causes the skin to manufacture vitamin D, a commonly referenced benefit of sunlight, it also causes the skin to make large amounts of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide can lower or prevent high blood pressure and can lower levels of insulin resistance. Exposing the skin to 30 minutes of summer sunlight caused nitric oxide levels to go up and high blood pressure and insulin resistance to go down. Insulin resistance can turn into a number of harmful conditions, most notably diabetes.
You not only want to focus on getting Vitamin D, but getting enough sunlight as it offers nitric acid, something Vitamin D supplements do not. Just make sure to wear sunscreen so your skin doesn’t age while you’re soaking up the health benefits throughout your lifespan.
Improves overall physical health
Depending on the activity, time in nature can actually help strengthen muscles or decrease the likelihood of physical aches and pains. While it might be obvious an outdoor workout or yoga session would do this, there’s more nature activities which offer this benefit. And some activities are suitable for those who cannot physically participate in a high intensity workout.
One of the most beneficial nature activities? Gardening. A 2020 study discovered community gardening programs provide physical health benefits including increased strength and decreased obesity for elderly participants. In fact, gardening can be an excellent physical activity for the elderly because it promotes healthy aging and provides health benefits similar to exercise without the strain and injury potential of some physical exercise, such as running.
Many factors increase how long you live and nature is an important one. Whether you’re looking to prevent your chances age-related diseases and cardiovascular diseases, manage chronic diseases, or improve your physical or mental health, nature can play an important role in your life.
Depending on your current fitness levels, consult with a health care provider, such as a physical therapist, about side effects before participating in strenuous outdoor activities.
Improves overall mental health
More and more we’re discovering mental health plays an important role in our longevity and quality of life. Those who are happier, less stressed, and more social often live healthier and longer lives–and nature plays a role in our stress and happiness levels.
A 2019 study found spending 10 minutes or more in nature 3 times a week can reduce biological indicators of stress by over 20%. This is because spending time outside helps you disconnect from stressors and reconnect to your natural environment.
A 2020 study discussed the direct relationship between nature and happiness. Spending time in green space improved overall mood and mental health in adults. It’s also been shown to improve cognition and creativity, two other indicators of happiness.
If you’ve been on a walk in nature, the relationship between nature and mental health is probably no surprise to you. One aspect of mental health that’s related to nature, however, might surprise you: feeling socially connected. Blue spaces, areas with a body of water nearby, are particularly good at helping us feel connected and less isolated. A 2020 report from the UK’s environmental agency found that blue spaces increased not only our connection to nature, but opportunities to socialize and build communities.
The mental health benefits of time in nature are plentiful and can help you live a long life with great well being and lower health care costs.
Curious how to get outside more often? Check out some of my favorite nature activities or subscribe to my weekly newsletter. When you subscribe, you get weekly advice on how to use nature to be happier and healthier and you also get my ebook on how to be less stressed this week using nature for free.