Have you ever noticed how much more relaxed you are after spending some time in nature?
People have been drawn to nature for hundreds of years. William Wordsworth was known to take long walks in nature for inspiration. Beethoven once wrote, “How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no man can love the country as I love it. Woods, trees and rocks send back the echo that man desires.”
Today, there are rangers in Korean forests that administer forest healing programs. Scotland has programs for the mentally ill with nature as the central treatment. In West Virginia, there’s a program for kids with ADHD that again features nature.
I recently picked up a copy of “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams. It’s one of those books that I saw on the shelf and could resist picking it up. I wasn’t disappointed.
From a purely scientific perspective, nature reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
In Japan, a study was done on the physiological effects of hinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” (taking in the forest atmosphere). It found that leisurely forest walks lower cortisol and blood pressure and increase parasympathetic nerve activity (the part of the nervous system that slows your heart rate and relaxes your muscles) compared to city walks.
But let’s go a little deeper. Why is this?
There are many potential reasons which Williams discusses in detail in her book. But to keep this post a reasonable length, I’ll just mention a couple of my favorites.
Fractals are mathematical sets that have repeating patterns at any size. Take tree branches as an example. Branches separate off into smaller branches that mirror the same pattern as the branches get smaller and smaller. That’s a fractal.
There’s a lot of fractals in nature – think trees, plants, water, and flowers. Exposure has been shown to reduce stress levels up to 60%. Why?
It’s simply more efficient for the brain to process information presented in fractals because the pattern that your eye tracks to takes in information is itself a fractal.
“Your visual system is in some way hardwired to understand fractals,” says Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon. “The stress-reduction is triggered by a physiological resonance that occurs when the fractal structure of the eye matches that of the fractal image being viewed.”
You can take advantage of the stress reducing powers of fractals by intentionally looking at them. Anything from desktop backgrounds to art. Or, even better, go look at some trees!
Love the scent of pine needles? You aren’t alone. When you walk through a sun soaked forest breathing in the woody, spicy smell of trees, you are smelling oils released by the trees.
They are called phytochemicals and they directly correlate with a reduction in stress hormones, are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Not to mention they help you breathe deeper and relax.
5 Hour Minimum
The two areas above are only a few of the many things that The Nature Fix talks about. Williams closes the book with some simple, actionable advice.
Spend a minimum of five hours fully experiencing nature every month.
It’s so easy to forget about the healing and relaxing power of nature when we spend so much of our lives in buildings and cities. But after reading this book, I’ve found myself prioritizing time spent in nature and plan on hitting that five hour minimum every month.