Whether we’re in our homes, in our cars, or in our offices, we spend most of our days removed from nature—and it’s not good for us.
I just returned from a fishing trip on the Big Horn River in Montana, and I’m on sabbatical right now in Maine. I live outside Nashville, Tennessee, and one thing we have in abundance is trees. But Maine has us beat. There are 22 billion trees here—almost 17,000 per person.
We all know about the environmental benefits trees and other plants provide. But how often do you take advantage of the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits we get from nature?
According to one article I recently read, “people today spend up to 25 percent less time enjoying nature than people did just 20 years ago.” Why does that matter? Because every day sheds new light on the benefits of being close to nature, and what we’re missing by staying indoors.
“We are influenced by our environment in ways that we are not aware of,” researcher Netta Weinstein says. In fact, experiencing nature can improve our minds, rejuvenate our bodies, and restore our spirits.
What Nature Does for Your Mind
Taking a break from the busyness of life to engage with nature, even for a few minutes, can bring big positive effects for our mental stamina and cognitive performance.
In one study, people performing memory and attention tests upped their scores by 20 percent after walking through an arboretum. Walking down a busy street, by comparison, offered no such benefit.
The time doesn’t have to be long. Short “micro-breaks” with nature, even just looking at pictures, has discernible benefits for our minds.
But long, immersive stretches in nature offer big benefits for our creativity and problem-solving skills. After spending four days in the wild, disconnected from any sort of digital technology, students performed 50 percent better on a problem-solving test. “Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting,” said researchers.
This is one of the things I love about my sabbatical time. I can feel my creativity welling up the longer I’m in the woods or by a stream.