Getting out into nature isn’t just a way to pass the time; it holds the potential to benefit your physical and mental wellbeing. As human beings, we have a strong connection to the natural world. We weren’t designed to cope with so many things fighting for our attention, let alone to be connected to everything 24/7, so it is no surprise that burnout and stress-related illnesses are on the rise. Connecting with nature can boost your physical and mental wellbeing by increasing your vitamin D intake, accommodating social interactions, helping you to be present, and more!
Physical wellbeing/Hauora Tinana
Being in nature can benefit your physical wellbeing more than you might realise. More than soaking up some sunshine and breathing in fresh air, the great outdoors has a wealth of health benefits up its sleeve.
As you breathe in the fresh air, you’re also taking in phytoncides – airborne chemicals given off by plants. These natural compounds work their magic by giving your white blood cells a boost and revving up your immune system, helping your body be better equipped to fend off illnesses. And if that wasn’t enough, studies have shown that spending just 20 minutes in green spaces can help to lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
Sun, sun, sun:
Being in the sun also helps your body absorb more vitamin D, a crucial nutrient with a laundry list of benefits (with adequate UV protection or moderation of course!). Higher vitamin D levels can help you sleep better, leading to improved brain function, emotional wellbeing, and enhanced physical and mental health.
Let’s get physical:
If you’re up for a more active excursion in the great outdoors, consider tackling some uneven terrain. It takes 28% more energy to navigate rocky or hilly landscapes compared to flat ground. So, whether you’re hiking through the hills or exploring the wild outdoors, you’re not only reconnecting with nature but also getting a great workout. This kind of physical activity can help you manage your weight, reduce the risk of hypertension, improve blood pressure, and boost your muscle tone. Turns out that nature is a treasure trove of physical wellbeing just waiting for you to take advantage of it!
Social butterfly effect:
Physical activity and social interaction in natural settings also hold significant benefits. As inherently social beings, we gravitate naturally to connection and companionship. Sharing outdoor experiences with friends, whanau, or colleagues can lead to a surge in our serotonin levels, providing a natural, mood-lifting high!
Mental wellbeing/Hauora Hinengaro
Nature’s playground isn’t just a landscape for our physical health and wellbeing – it is also a nurturing environment for our mental and emotional health. The simple act of being in nature, engaging in physical activities, and connecting with others can work wonders for our state of mind and overall sense of wellbeing.
The natural world provides an ideal backdrop for our attentional systems* to function at their peak. It’s the reason why immersing ourselves in nature can help us detach from our everyday stresses and focus on the present moment. When we’re out in the wild, our minds tend to focus less on our never-ending to-do list, and more on the sheer beauty before us. The simple act of being in nature also can reduce what psychologists refer to as ‘rumination’ - those persistent negative thought patterns that tend to haunt us.
* Attentional systems refer to how our brains manage and control our focus or attention on different things in our environment.
For our Tamariki:
When our younger generations spend time in nature, it can boost their ability to regulate their behaviour and emotions, contributing to their overall well-being. Nature offers them a setting to develop patience, resilience, and curiosity through interactions with the natural world. Outdoor activities can even foster social skills like teamwork, communication, and empathy while providing a safe space for emotional expression.
Connection to nature/TūrangawaewaeHaving a connection to our land and environment doesn’t only benefit our physical and mental wellbeing, it can also provide a sense of belonging. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel empowered and connected. They serve as our foundation, grounding us in the world and providing a true sense of home. This Māori concept reflects how our connection to place is not just part of our identity, it can also shape the way we think, our way of being, our priorities, and our values. In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have an abundance of beautiful beaches, mountains, bush, and other natural areas to embrace the powerful connection they can offer.
Being in nature can play a significant role in our physical and mental wellbeing, from strengthening our immune systems to giving us a break from the constant hustle of modern life. But it doesn’t stop there. The great outdoors is a space where we can come together to create special moments, strengthen our connections, and lift each other up. Whether you want to try a sunrise swim, plan a hike, or just get out of the office during your lunch break, spending time in nature can be a simple way to boost your well-being.