The Benefits of Nature

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When was the last time you spent at least an hour outside? Now, when was the Sunset over the Rocky Mountainslast time you spent at least an hour outside in nature, away from the cityscape you live in? If you had to think about that answer for a couple minutes, you aren’t alone. A 2012 survey by the David Suzuki Foundation found that 70% of youth spent less than an hour per day outside and that time outside was spent hustling to a destination. A 2001 survey by the US Environmental Protection Agency found that on average, Americans spend 87% of their time indoors and 6% in an enclosed vehicle.

Escaping the concrete jungle for some time in nature can lead to numerous health benefits. A two hour walk in the woods is enough to improve sleep quality and mitigate sleep problems. Being outside gives you lots of Vitamin D, a vitamin most Canadians are deficient in, which reduces your risk of osteoporosis, rickets, and mental health issues. Being in nature can lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and reduce stress levels. In fact, just viewing natural images while exercising has been shown to reduce blood pressure by 9% compared to viewing urban images.

Four ways to spend more time in nature
Click on image to view full infographic.

All of these positive health effects have lead to a growth of a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku – or “forest bathing”. This practice refers to absorbing the sights, smells, and sounds of a nature setting to improve physical and psychological health. Although this sounds similar to a hike or other nature walks, it is intended to be a slower pace and allow the person to be mindful of their surroundings, taking in things that can only be seen when you slow down. A 2010 study found that subjects who participated in forest bathing had lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones compared to those walking through a city setting.

Calgary is blessed with lots of green space, both in the city and just a short way away in the mountains. If you’re like me, when you set out on a hike your goal is to get to the top as fast as you can to get your heart rate up and your legs burning. Next time try setting a new intention. Pick a shorter, easier hike or walk and allow yourself to slow down. You might not get the same tired workout feeling afterwards but your body will be thanking you for all the other benefits it experiences.

Where do you go to escape the city?

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