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5 Science-Backed Reasons to Spend More Time in Nature

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Go outside to chill out, get inspired, boost your mood, and more. 

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Here’s a depressing statistic: The average American spends approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Sure, you surround yourself with the plants so you can have a greener life. But that’s still a huge amount of time to be cooped up inside, denying yourself fresh air and sunlight, especially since research shows the great outdoors comes with a slew of healthy benefits. Start making it a priority to take a weekend hike in nature or even just visit a park—you’ll reap the benefits long after you head back home.

1. It’s a natural stress reliever. Science says nature is the ultimate chill pill—in Japan, there’s even a practice called shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” (when you spend time appreciating being in a forest), which has been linked to stress relief. A review of 52 studies in Japan looked at the effects of nature therapies, including forest bathing, and found spending time in a forest can reduce stress, with physiological benefits as well. No forest where you live? The same review examined research on the effects of urban green space, and the results showed that people who spent time in parks also reaped stress-relieving benefits. The findings are supported by a small study in Helsinki that showed that even short visits to a woodland area and a park in the city had perceived restorative effects on participants.

2. It can improve your mental health. Do you tend to dwell on the negative? This is called ruminating, and it’s associated with a higher risk for depression. It can be hard to tear your thoughts away from negative experiences and feelings, but getting outside may help. In one study, researchers at Stanford University had a group of 38 healthy people walk 90 minutes either through a grassy, green area or congested city streets. They found that those on the nature walk reported ruminating less. And it makes sense—nature is pretty and quiet, making it a more restorative environment that allows people to think more positively.

3. It can make you enjoy your job more. Everyone sits too much at work these days, and, frankly, it’s bumming us all out. In one study, when normally sedentary employees walked as a group for 30 minutes three times a week for 10 weeks, they reported that the lunchtime walks improved their enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work. Getting in some exercise and feeling better about work? Win-win!

4. It can make you more creative. The number of gorgeous sunset and beach photos clogging up your Instagram feed should be proof enough that nature inspires creativity. But there’s scientific proof, too. In one study, 56 women participated in wilderness expeditions run by Outward Bound. Half were given a cognitive test to assess creative thinking before they started their backpacking trip. The other half were tested after four days of hiking—and this group performed 50 percent better than those who were tested beforehand. With the views you’re guaranteed to see outside, who’s really that surprised?

5. It can improve your memory. This may sound strange, but going into the woods may increase your recall. When 20 study participants with depression were told to take a 50-minute walk in either a natural or urban setting, short-term memory span after the walk increased significantly for the nature walkers versus the urban walkers. The researchers think it’s because nature is so naturally pretty and interesting that it captures your attention without you having to think about it. That gives your directed-attention abilities time to replenish, so when you do need to focus, you’re able to recall more.

Find other great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive