Do you spend enough time in nature? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably no. Eating healthy and working out can improve your mood and health, but time in nature is often the missing piece to a healthy lifestyle. How to be happier with more time in nature isn’t only about getting outside everyday, but getting quality time in nature everyday.
Let’s look into the harms of not spending enough time in nature, how nature makes you happier, as well as easy, tactical ideas to spend more time in nature starting today.
The Harms of Not Spending Enough Time in Nature
According to a 2019 study, over 93% of our time is spent inside. Most of us could benefit from more time outside, but what are the specific harms of spending too much time inside?
There are many risks, including:
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Higher cortisol levels, leading to more stress
- Higher risk of developing myopia
- Difficulty focusing
- Cognitive issues
- Increased risk of dementia
- Increased risk of a stroke
- An increased likelihood of developing anxiety or depression
When you don’t spend time in nature, you are putting your health–and lifespan–in jeopardy. In fact, even a 25 minute brisk walk in nature a day could add three years onto your life.
Unsure if you spend enough time in nature (or what to do if you don’t)? Take my free quiz to discover your risk of a nature deficit disorder. A nature deficit disorder is not spending enough quality time in nature to get the needed health benefits.
How Nature Makes Us Happier
We’ve all experienced the calming, euphoric feeling of spending a day in nature, but how exactly does nature improve our mental health?
Well, there are a couple of ways, including stress reduction, improving socialiability, and improving overall mood.
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 2014 study found that those who spent more time in nature reported higher levels of sociability in local communities. Those who lived in neighborhoods with more green space and where residents spent more time outside socialized more often. Having a community is a key element to a happy life and spending time in nature can help build those communities.
Finally, 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.
Getting outside can improve your social health, stress levels, and mental health. Many doctors, including myself, give out nature prescriptions, or advice to spend time outside. If you’re just getting started with exploring nature, try to spend 3 30 minute sessions outside a week.
Unsure what to do outside? Download my free ebook for nature-based activities to fit any lifestyle.
Make Sure You Spend Quality Time in Nature
Many of us don’t spend time in nature, much less quality time in nature. Time in nature could be anything, even running from your car into the grocery store, but quality time in nature is intentionally spending time in nature.
Some ideas of how to spend quality time in nature include:
- Listening to birds
- Smelling wildflowers
- Watching sunsets
- Going on walks in nature for more than 20 minutes
- Watching clouds
However, many of us don’t devote time to simple, yet effective ways to spend more time in nature. A study polling over 2,000 adult participants found:
- 57% rarely or never watched the sunrise
- 80% either infrequently or never took photos/drew or painted a picture of a natural view, plant, flower or animal
- 79% either infrequently or never smelled wild flowers
- 78% either infrequently or never watched wildlife (e.g. birdwatching etc.)
- 71% infrequently or never watched clouds
- 62% either infrequently or never listened to birdsong
- 62% infrequently or never took time to notice butterflies and/or bees
The same study also found that spending quality time in nature was predictive of not having anxiety or depression. A key element quality time in nature is mindfulness. Next time you go outside, appreciate the world around you and pay attention to your surroundings. This awareness could lead to a big improvement in your mood.
When you’re in nature, whether you’re forest bathing or practicing surf therapy, you should try to see the natural world around you with awe and amazement.
Not only will this help yourself be happier, it will also help you cultivate a better appreciation of the climate and biodiversity. This makes you more likely to act to slow climate change.
Customizing Nature to Your Lifestyle
Nature isn’t only hiking a mountain with no one else around. You don’t need to go deep into the wilderness to experience the benefits of nature–it’s all around you!
Public parks, playing with your dog in your backyard, and even owning houseplants are great ways to experience nature. Even if you live in an apartment complex surrounded by concrete, there are ways you can green the indoors and bring nature to you.
For city dwellers and those who find it hard to get out into nature, you can bring nature to you with:
- Exploring nearby parks
- A garden on your patio or balcony
- Choosing a nature-based destination for your next trip, such as a national park
- Going for walks outside where you practice mindfulness and awe at the natural surroundings
- Watching the sunrise or sunset
Nature can make us happier and it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to pack up your life, move out to the middle of nowhere, and become a hermit to experience nature. Quality time in nature can look like appreciating a sunset or going for a walk in the park.
Try to spend at least 20 minutes in nature today and see how it improves your mood. And, if you’re still unsure how to spend time in nature, check out 5 nature activities to improve your physical and mental health.