There are plenty of health benefits of spending time outdoors, like getting your fill of vitamin D and easing anxiety. But with most Americans now living in cities, spending time in nature isn’t always so easy. (1) Luckily, it’s not necessary to spend the day out in the woods to still reap the benefits of nature. A recent study published in BioScience found that even a brief experience with nature can help lift your mood. (2)
What the Study Found
Using a smartphone app called Urban Mind, researchers studied 108 participants. The people involved in the study received seven push notifications on their phones throughout the day for one week consisting of questions about their surroundings at that time. Then, within 30 minutes, they had to share their mood at that time, also responding to questions like, “Are you indoors or outdoors?” “Can you see the sky?” “Can you hear nature?” Possible responses included yes, no and not sure. Participants also had the ability to geotag their location.
The results found that among those participants who answered at least half of the prompts, there was a strong association between their well-being and interactions with nature, like being able to hear birds or see the sky even if they weren’t outside. Additionally, the good moods seemed to last through the next push notification. In fact, on the days when people had some type of nature exposure, they reported better moods for longer periods of time.
Why You Can Be Happy Even in the City
What’s interesting about this study is that while people living in urban areas are at higher risk of mental health disorders like depression, living in some cities can actually improve your health. (3, 4) A report by Gallup found that places with active living environments have happier, healthier residents. (5) Active living environments include things that city dwellers often have access to, like bike paths, walkable streets, public transport and parks.
Additionally, residents who lived in the top five highest active living communities — Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. — have significantly lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. This is likely due to the fact that people in these cities also have higher rates of exercise and fresh food access.
While cities are often depicted as smoggy, traffic-filled areas, communities that are actively investing in infrastructure that makes a healthy lifestyle easier, like building bike lanes, carving out green spaces and making streets friendlier to walk and jog on, are reaping the rewards in public health.
Of course, if you can’t get outside to enjoy nature, it doesn’t matter what city you’re living in; you’ll still be missing out. But as the Urban Mind study found, even glimpses of nature throughout the day can improve your wellbeing. Here are some of my favorite ways to sneak a little nature into the day.
How to Add More Nature Time Your Day
Add houseplants to your home and office. If you can’t get outside, why not bring the greenery indoors? Keeping plants in your home and office allows you to get a little glimpse of nature throughout the day while also keeping your space looking good. Bonus: some houseplants remove pollution, too.
Do your indoor workouts outside. Skip logging miles on the dreadmill and hit the park instead! Try going for a walk, practicing yoga on a mat outside when the weather is warm or going on a leisurely bike ride. It’s a fun way to be active and get a dose of nature.
Set aside 10 minutes to walk. Maybe this is when you head to your favorite coffee shop in the mornings or when you get your coworker to do a quick walking meeting instead of sending yet another email. Whatever the reason — including just wanting to get outdoors! — set aside just 10 minutes each day to get outside and observe what’s going on.
Look out the window at sunrise or sunset (or both!). It happens each and every day, and yet it’s wonderful watching the sky change colors and night transition to morning or vice versa. If it’s the morning, put on a cozy robe, open the window and start your day marveling at nature. In the evenings, take a moment to think of something you’re grateful for while watching the sunset for the night. And of course, if you have outdoor access at either of these times, take advantage!
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