I sat in the shade of the giant maple tree on my cousin’s farm and marveled at the view. Scottish Highland cattle were grazing in the pasture, chickens were picking through the grass and irises and lilacs were blooming nearby, all while a gentle breeze cooled the air.
The serenity of the hilltop farm proved to be a perfect resting place after the funeral and burial for my aunt, who was raised on that farm. Our families told stories, cried a little and laughed a lot.
Nature has that kind of healing quality.
People tend to think that being in nature is a luxury, but it’s actually a necessity, said Laura Stanton, Ohio State University Extension Educator for Family and Consumer Sciences in Warren County. She was joined by colleague Shari Gallup, FSC Educator in Licking County, to present a recent webinar about the impact of nature on our health and wellbeing.
Both pointed to four decades of scientific research that tout the many ways nature can improve our health, such as lowering our heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone cortisol and helping us live longer.
Many mental and physical perks to taking a nature break
“Just 20 minutes outside can lower a person’s stress,” Stanton said. “When you feel rejuvenated and relaxed after being outside in nature, you are experiencing that change in cortisol.”
Spending time in nature also decreases a person’s anxiety and depression. “Just listening to bird songs can have such a positive impact on your mental wellbeing,” said Stanton, an avid bird watcher.
Studies also show that people who spend time outside report decreased feelings of fatigue and improved sleep after having that dose of fresh air.
The educators noted that people are spending less time outside. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency said that Americans on the average spend 93 percent of their time indoors.
As a result, more and more children are being diagnosed as near-sighted due to lack of exposure to sunlight and more focus on electronics, Stanton said.
So, how do we spend more time focused on nature?
Simple steps to getting outside
Gallup provided some simple steps.
First, commit time to it. “We all have a choice to stay in the house or spend 20 minutes outside,” she said.
Be observant. “Look up? What do you see? Maybe it’s the tops of trees, clouds or birds. Maybe you want to sit on a rock, stump or the ground.”
Simply listen. “Hear the sound of your feet stepping on the earth or a stick. These are things we just don’t notice when we’re caught up in daily life,” Gallup said.
She also suggested eating a meal outside during a lunch break, something she does often. “Yes, I have to leave work,” she said, but the purpose behind it is more important than staying at my desk for those 20 minutes.”
You can also experience nature by feeding the birds, keeping a nature journal and gardening - inside and out.
“I like purchasing herbs,” Gallup said. She plants them in her garden and keeps one on her desk at work. Adding plants to your home or office also can help create calm.
Pick your place to get your ‘Vitamin N’
Stanton said it’s important for individuals to experience nature in a way that feels right for them and schedule extended time there. Some people may like being near water, others may find a connection with mountains. The important thing is to work it into their schedule so that they get that “Vitamin N (nature).”
Stanton also recognized there are limitations, depending on peoples’ abilities and where they live.
“As much as we crave to be in nature,” she said, “some of us will have easier time accessing nature than others. Sometimes you have to be creative to embrace nature.” That may mean looking at nature through a window or in books.
Stanton and Gallup have compiled information about the importance of nature for health and wellbeing on the website go.osu.edu/nature-matters. That includes a list of books about nature for adults and children, bird resources and a pamphlet the educators have created to distribute to communities and parks.
“As you spend more and more time in nature,” Stanton said, “think about bringing someone along. It’s so fun to have these great experiences and memories while you’re out in nature, but it’s more fun when they are shared with others.”
Laurie Sidle is a 4-H and Family and Consumer Sciences program assistant for Ohio State University Extension in Wayne County.
She can be reached at email@example.com or 330-264-8722
This article was previously published in The Daily Record