“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - John Muir
We can all attest to the calming and emotionally enhancing effects of spending time out in nature. Science has confirmed what intuition and common-sense has long told us: spending time in nature improves our mental and physical well-being. Spending purposeful time in nature is actually a formal form of therapy, called ecotherapy. This is an umbrella term that describes a group of therapies focused on nature-based approaches to healing.
Although laying in a park may feel redundant at first, the benefits of spending time outside may surprise you. Nature reprograms us to feel less stressed, tired, and anxious, and at the same time more energized, grounded, and happier. But the benefits span much farther than this, with recent research showing us that spending time in nature can actually lower inflammation, boost immune system function, enhance sleep quality, neutralize harmful free radicals, and improve metabolic health. Nature has a powerful influence on our emotional and physiological health, and ecotherapy reminds us that what's commonly sought after in a pill, can often be found all around us...for free!
Interested in reaping the benefits for yourself? Keep reading to learn more about the science behind our favourite forms of ecotherapy.
Simply listening to the roar of waves, feeling the ocean breeze, or enjoying the warmth of the sun is therapeutic in itself. This is formally referred to as thalassotherapy. The rhythmic sound of the waves can alter brain wave patterns and induce a meditative state, helping to calm anxiety and induce a deep state of relaxation.
Being exposed to heat of the sun influences your endocrine system, increasing the release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin, while helping to regulate your circadian rhythm. Moreover, the minerals found in the ocean (e.g. magnesium, zinc, manganese, iron, potassium, etc.) nourish your body and help to regulate the nervous system, alleviating stress and anxiety.
Grounding is a simple practice that involves placing your bareskin on the earth. Whether this is done by walking barefoot or laying on the grass, grounding exposes your body to an abundance of negatively charged ions that neutralize free radicals within the body. Just as vitamin D is produced by the energy of the sun, the earth produces its own stream of frequencies. Although this may sound “woo-woo”, there is a growing body of evidence supporting its health benefits, from reducing inflammation, to restoring homeostasis within the body, enhancing sleep quality, decreasing cortisol levels, and improving one’s mood. As the benefits of grounding have been studied on individuals who expose themselves to the earth for more than thirty minutes, we recommend practicing for a minimum half hour each time.
Forest bathing is spending purposeful time in forests. Its benefits can be narrowed down to the total effects of the forest environment, including the smells, sounds, sensations, taste, and sights. Most shocking are the benefits from the scents that are given off trees, called phytoncides. Phytoncides have been shown to significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and anger, while boosting natural killer cell activity and anti-cancer proteins. Forest bathing has been shown to reduce stress by reducing the stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. As stress reduces inflammation, it can subsequently boost immune function.
Learning about the therapeutic benefits of spending time outside encourages us to embrace and reconnect to nature. Although simple, reorienting our days to include more intentional moments outside has the power to create a profound rippling effect on our mental and physical well-being.