The Health Benefits of Nature
Self-Care for the Mind and Body
Time spent outdoors has both mental and physical benefits. Yet, the average person spends nearly 87% of their time indoors and 7% of their time in vehicles. Most of us spend less than 5 hours per week in nature.
This is a shame; studies have shown that a variety of physiological benefits can be derived from time spent in “greenspace,” including reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Nature-based self-care is also associated with lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Further, the bacteria found in plant life may help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Studies suggest that just looking at nature can make a difference. Research conducted at a hospital in Pennsylvania found that surgery patients who had views of the outdoors from their rooms had shorter stays, fewer treatment complications, and used fewer painkillers.
Similarly, there is evidence to suggest that the presence of plants in indoor environments can promote wellbeing. Schools and workplaces have found that the more plants people are exposed to in their offices and classrooms, the fewer sick days they take. That’s a total win-win.
Take Advantage of Nature
How can you incorporate nature into your self-care practice? Bringing it into your home is the easiest way, using houseplants and container gardens. Most plants need only light, soil, and water to thrive, making them suitable for urban spaces.
Consider changes to your daily routine that will allow you to spend more time in nature. Could you walk to work rather than Ubering? What about spending five minutes with your morning coffee on the porch, or looking out the window? Maybe you could take Fido for an evening spin around the neighborhood rather than letting him out in the yard.
There are plenty of ways to interact with nature on a daily basis that require minimal effort.
The Perks of Living in DC
Luckily for our community, there are tons of opportunities to connect with the natural world. Washington, DC ranks third in the nation for best park system, according to the Trust for Public Land. More than 20% of the city is comprised of green space, and 97% of residents live within a half-mile of a park.
Additionally, DC boasts botanical gardens, a nationally-renowned Cherry Blossom Festival, a variety of local house-plant boutiques, and farmer’s markets in most neighborhoods. There are groups for bird-watching, running, biking, rowing, sailing, and hiking, along with gorgeous outdoor spaces like Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and more.
Interested in nature-based healing? Viva’s clinician Nicole Armstead-Williams specializes in modalities that connect agriculture and the outdoors to the healing process. Practices like forest bathing are also becoming popular and have been the subject of our monthly Holistic Professional Group workshops.
How do you get your nature fix? Let us know!
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma. Previous blogs include How to Decrease Loneliness and Planning a Stress-Free Vacation.