December seems like a strange time to discuss the benefits of spending time in nature. The temperature is hovering in the low- to mid-thirties and we get 30% cloud cover on average. But nature, in any form, has noticeable health benefits.
This time of year puts major stress on our cognitive functions. Parties, family get-togethers, radio ads, traffic jams, crowds of people—all incredibly mentally fatiguing. Nature is restorative in its ability to catch your attention in a passive manner, stopping you from draining your brain, and allowing the energy supply to recover. It’s like recharging your battery.
Being outside also increases your natural Vitamin D levels. Sunlight hits your exposed skin and starts a chemical reaction of creating and using Vitamin D. The vitamin (which is actually a hormone) has been found to increase your mood and fight depression.
In addition, nature helps us cope with pain. We are genetically pre-programmed to find nature; trees, water, plants, etc… engrossing. We are absorbed by nature and are, therefore, distracted from our pain and discomfort. There is a study of patients who underwent gall bladder surgery that supports this. Half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital (Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1991).
December screams ‘stay inside’ for many, but remember to get out and enjoy nature at times too. Grab your mittens and a cup of hot chocolate and get outside! Check out The Good New Paper for a list of events and activities to get you started.