Whether we’re in our homes, in our cars, or in our offices, we spend most of our days removed from nature—and it’s not good for us.
I just returned from a week in the hills and woods of East Tennessee. One of my favorite moments was fly fishing Hesse Creek. It’s world famous for trout, and I had seven on my line and landed two of the most beautiful rainbows ever. It was simultaneously restful and exhilarating.
We all know about the environmental benefits trees and other plants provide. But how often do we take advantage of the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits available from nature?
According to one article I recently read, “people today spend up to 25 percent less time enjoying nature than people did just 20 years ago.” Why does that matter? Because every day sheds new light on the benefits of being close to nature, and what we’re missing by staying indoors.
“We are influenced by our environment in ways that we are not aware of,” researcher Netta Weinstein says. In fact, experiencing nature can improve our minds, rejuvenate our bodies, and restore our spirits.
What Nature Does for Your Mind
Taking a break from the busyness of life to engage with nature, even for a few minutes, can bring big positive effects for our mental stamina and cognitive performance.
In one study, people performing memory and attention tests upped their scores by 20 percent after walking through an arboretum. Walking down a busy street, by comparison, offered no such benefit.
The time doesn’t have to be long. Short “micro-breaks” with nature, even just looking at pictures, has discernible benefits for our minds.
But long, immersive stretches in nature offer big benefits for our creativity and problem-solving skills. After spending four days in the wild, disconnected from any sort of digital technology, students performed 50 percent better on a problem-solving test. “Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting,” said researchers.
This is one of the things I love about my annual sabbatical time. I can feel my creativity welling up the longer I’m in the woods or by a stream.
What Nature Does for Your Body
Spending time in nature is a great way to find physical rejuvenation. I always feel relaxed when I’m unplugged and outdoors.
- Rejuvenated physical energy
- Faster physical recovery
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced muscle tension
- Decreased stress hormones
- Heightened immunity
- Lower heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Better cholesterol
Many of these benefits rebound to our mental health, of course, forming a virtuous circle.
We can look at these benefits like optional add-ons or upgrades to our lives. But the truth is they’re normative. We’re hardwired to spend time relaxing and resting, especially in natural environments.
Our locked-away, always-on, never-disconnecting way of living robs us of the rejuvenation God intended us to regularly experience.
What Nature Does for Your Spirit
To me, this is the most important. God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.
The Bible says that nature speaks to us of God’s character and His attributes. Spending time in nature gives us a chance to slow down and notice what it’s communicating.
I’ve said this before, but God made us human beings, not human doings. You would never know it, looking at modern man. So much of our life is defined by our churning and turning through endless tasks and assignments. We’re so busy, we hardly take time to slow down and notice our hearts, notice God.
A long hike, fishing, wandering through a garden, walking along a stream—these activities let us disconnect from the crazy and get reconnected to our hearts.
Nature is God’s reset button for our minds, bodies, and spirits. If you’re spending all day indoors, you’re missing the restorative power of nature.
You don’t have to start with a sabbatical or weeks away from the office. You can start with a stroll. Just walking through the trees or napping in a park will help you realign, restore, and rejuvenate.
Question: How much time do you spend outdoors each week? What would it take to increase that?