Humans are affected by nature, being outdoors, close to nature is inspiring and uplifting. Our pre-historic ancestors didn’t watch TV or live in offices. Maybe that’s why we’re fascinated by the outdoors, and why being in nature keeps us healthy.
Unlike prehistoric humans who lived at nature’s mercy, modern travelers can choose to engage with their natural surroundings. And they should: when it comes to health, keeping nature in mind is a good thing.
Getting outside to feel better isn’t just common sense, scientists have proved that saying “yes” to nature, leads to improved overall health.
This post explains why your next travel destination should include the “country” part of the country you’re visiting.
Put Things into Perspective
Experiencing nature’s power reminds you that there are some things you have no control over. The best way to appreciate this is to experience it, but don’t worry: you don’t need to wait for a flood or a thunderstorm. Just watching clouds roll by or the wind bending trees in a park helps you appreciate how little control humans have over nature.
Think your new iPad shipping one day late is a big deal? At the top of a mountain or the middle of a prairie, you feel how insignificant you – and your problems – are. Keep nature in mind, and your problems might get so small they disappear.
Engage Your Senses
Traveling takes you out of your “normal” routine, making it easier to notice details and appreciate the moment. When you mix nature and travel, your senses are engaged not only by your new surroundings, but the unique sounds, smells, and feelings of natural world. This makes even mundane things seem wondrous, helping you create lasting memories.
Sense of hearing
Nature sounds have a calming effect on humans. Audio experts believe that birdsong can calm the mind1, and the sound of water rippling can help reduce stress2. Getting away from the (not calming) noise of a city – honking horns, jackhammers, barking dogs – can be refreshing.
Sense of smell
The smell of fresh air (notably absent of exhaust fumes) is invigorating, and scientists have discovered that the scent of evergreen and cypress trees can lower blood pressure3 and soothe a modern human’s overstimulated nervous system.
Sense of touch
Escaping to a warm climate is the goal of many a winter getaway. Being out in the sunshine is great for warming your bones and absorbing vitamin D, but there are health benefits for taking your vacation in a cold place too.
A powerful feeling comes over you the first time you see the ocean. It’s similar to the first time you see the Grand Canyon, or a sunrise over palm trees. Moments like these inspire wonder, and could even be the reason you choose to travel.
Being awestruck by nature is a profound experience, and (believe it or not) makes it feel like time slows down6.
No matter how fascinating a museum is, it won’t make you feel alive like in the great outdoors does. Researchers have found that people who spend time outside in nature have increased vitality, which has mental and physical benefits7.
Besides having more energy and a better attitude about their well-being, people who spend time in a natural setting have more energy and are less likely to become sick.
The world is more connected than ever, often making it difficult to keep nature in mind. It’s worth your while to head to a remote location when you travel. Getting away into nature helps remove digital distractions.
Without a connection, you won’t have a screen telling you what’s trending, who has the most popular Pinterest account, and what your friend wore to last night’s party. You’re free to spend time thinking about other – more important – things. You’ll be able to collect your thoughts and focus on you.
You Get Active
Outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking keep you healthy and fit. If you vacation in a place where you can get active in the great outdoors, embrace it. Even if you’re taking a leisurely stroll through a park, the health benefits of being active in nature are greater than being active in an urban environment8.
Taking in the view from a mountain’s peak, or looking back upriver at the rapids you just paddled, is a feeling you can’t get from driving your car to a lookoff. The satisfaction of conquering a physical challenge adds to the awe you feel as you take in a view that you’ve earned.
Being outside, close to nature, isn’t just a nice feeling. Scientists have found it physically reduces your stress as well as mentally.
The brain gets exhausted making sense of information, and it’s especially tiring separating useless from important. Taking a break is beneficial, but taking a break to be outside is especially beneficial, according to the results of a scientific study9. That explains why you feel less stress after spending a weekend in the mountains or at the beach.
Besides decreasing your stress and improving your mood, people who took time to be outdoors in a park or green space had higher cancer-fighting proteins and slower heart-rates10.
See Things that Could Disappear
Species are becoming extinct at the rate of approximately 10,000 per year11, and the world’s natural habitat is constantly under threat of development and pollution. If you’re waiting until an unknown day in “the future” to go on an African Safari or Amazon River cruise, you might consider speeding up your timeline.
Thinking about extinction is kind of a downer, but the positive side is that when you spend more time outside enjoying nature, you’re more likely to keep nature in mind all the time, and become more motivated to protect the environment.
Getting out into the great outdoors gets you away from modern distractions: cell phones, Netflix, social media updates, etc. It also gets you away from smog and other harmful chemicals that are a part of daily life in a city.
It’s probably obvious, but taking time away from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, radio, pollution, satellite waves, and noise in a city is a good thing. Being outdoors doesn’t just make you feel free, it is free. Of man-made devices that is.
Next time you plan to travel, plan with nature in mind, and make it a priority to get away from cities to see the country you’re visiting. It can make a big difference in how you feel, act, and think.
It might even feel like you’re coming home, because – after all – humans are part of the “natural world” too.
Coming soon: Book review of “You Brain on Nature”, a scientific view of how the natural world affects our brains more than we think…
1 – BBC News Magazine – The Surprising Uses for Birdsong back
2 – PLOS One – The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response back
3 – NCBI – The Acute Effects of Walking in Forest Environments on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Parameters back
4 – NCBI – Prevention and Treatment of Sleep Disorders Through Regulation of Sleeping Habits back
5 – Springer Link – Classroom Performance as a Function of Thermal Comfort back
6 – Psychological Science – Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, Enhances Well-Being back
7 – University of Rochester – Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows back
8 – PaleoClaims – Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review back
9 – Positive Psychology – Attention Restoration Theory and Nature: Let’s Solve Problems… back
10 – NCBI – Phytoncides (wood essential oils) Induce Human Natural Killer Cell Activity back
11 – WWF – How many species are we losing? back