Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. But you don’t have to lose yourself in a forest to reap the health benefits of being in nature. Something as simple as a walk through a park or by a lake can pay off for your well-being, says Frances Kuo, PhD, founder and director of the Landscape and Human Health Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Even just looking at a rooftop garden for 40 seconds helps you sustain attention during mentally fatiguing tasks,” she says, citing a 2015 study. Here are more reasons to embrace the outdoors.
- More positive outlook. Participants in a small study who took a 90-minute nature walk, compared with those who walked through an urban environment, reported lower levels of ruminating (repetitive negative thoughts), a known risk for depression and other psychological conditions. They also showed reduced activity in an area of the brain linked to sadness and withdrawal.
- Better sleep. An Australian study of 259,319 people found that people living in neighborhoods with more greenspace were more likely to get eight hours of sleep nightly than those living in neighborhoods with less green space.
- Less pain. A landmark study published in the journal Science found that hospitalized patients whose windows looked onto a garden setting healed faster from surgery and required less pain medication than patients whose view was a brick wall.
- Sharper memory. When people took an hour stroll in a nature setting, their short-term memory improved by 20 percent, a study in Psychological Science found. Even looking at pictures of nature helped memory.
- Healthier heart. People whose homes have easier access to woods and parks had lower levels of blood-vessel-damaging adrenaline and higher levels of circulating angiogenic cells (CACs), which repair blood vessel damage, according to a study of cardiology patients.