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  • Kathy Shimpock

Lookin' Outside My Back Door - The Benefits of Being in Nature

In the 1970’s, the band Creedence Clearwater Revival sang,

Just got home from Illinois, lock the front door, oh boy. Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch. Imagination sets in, pretty soon. I’m singin’ Doot, doot, doo, lookin' out my back door.

It was a great song with a catchy tune. Now all these years later, we know that improving your mood and increasing your health and creativity may be as simple as spending more time outside.

Florence Williams argues in her book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative:

“Imagine a miracle drug that could ease many of the stresses of modern life - a combination mood enhancer and smart pill that might even encourage the remission of cancer.  Now imagine that this cure-all was an old-fashioned folk remedy: Just take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park.  No prescription necessary.”

Since the 1980’s Japanese researchers have been studying the impact of forest bathing or “shinrin-yoku.” Overtime this practice spread throughout the world so that doctors in Canada now offer free passes to national parks to their patients.  It has also birthed “forest therapy” which provides a guided sensory experience during a hike or walk for healing. In South Korea, the government is establishing “healing forests” to help manage stress. In Scotland, natural hospital doctors also write scripts for spending time in nature (called a “nature prescription”).  The goal is simple. Find some time to be in nature whether in a neighborhood park or in a nearby forest. The key is to walk slowly and focus on all your senses (sight, touch, hearing, and smell) to enhance the experience.

Why should we spend more time in forests or nature?

The benefits of spending time in nature are many and include:

  • Improved immunity

  • Accelerated recovery from illness or trauma.

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved feeling of happiness and other positive emotions

  • Greater creativity

  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure

  • Lower cortisol levels

  • Increase concentration.

  • Improved self-esteem

  • Reduced risk of asthma, allergies, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease

  • Boosts mental health and life expectancy.

Why does this work? 

Well, the research is continuing but there is the belief that it may have to do with various chemicals released by trees (phytoncides), or the impact on the body from the sounds of nature (bird songs, breeze, or water) or even the visual fractal patterns observed.  Perhaps there is a genetic predisposition to benefit from natural microbes that are not found in urban environments.

How much time is needed to achieve these benefits?

Fifteen minutes in the woods has shown a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone; while 45 minutes results in an improvement in cognitive abilities. But generally, it is thought that 120 minutes per week is the optimal time to spend in nature.  Fortunately, this can be done in many ways – from a daily “immersion” to a long weekend walk in the park.

What if you can’t get to a forest or green outdoor space?

Dr. Qing Li who wrote the book on Forest Bathing, provides some suggestions.  Fill your house, patio, or back yard with plants.  Bring the smell of the outdoors inside by using essential oils of trees or the forest.  Play recordings of nature sounds.  Take a green mini break by looking outside or at photos of nature. Researchers from the University of Michigan have discovered that taking a ten minute break to look at pictures of nature is enough to improve cognitive performance.

The Creedence Clearwater Revival song, described someone finding a circus going on in their backyard. 

There’s a giant doin’ cartwheels, a statue wearin’ high heels. Look at all the happy creatures dancin' on the lawn. Dinosaur Victrola, listenin’ to Buck Owens. Doot, doot, doo, lookin' out my back door. Tambourines and elephants are playin’ the band. Won’t you take a ride on the flyin’ spoon? Doot, doo doo. Wondrous apparition, provided by magician. Doot, doot, doo, lookin' out my back door.

The songwriter, Michael Fogerty, has stated that the song was likely inspired by the Dr. Seuss classic “And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street.” But I think such creative thinking just naturally comes when you begin to relax in nature. (Haven’t you ever seen animals in the clouds while eating a picnic lunch?) In one study at the University of Utah, psychologist David Strayer found that participants had a 50% improvement in creative problem-solving after three days in nature.  But note, participants were also without access to any technology.  So, put that cell phone down and watch as your mood lifts and your stress just melts away. “Doot, doodt, doo, lookin’ out my back door.”

For more information about forest bathing.

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