6 Ways to Embrace Mother Nature

In case you needed further proof, here are six reasons why you should connect with nature.

In the past, the idea of women and nature bonding has often been relegated to new age mysticism and pagan forest rituals, but there are several psychological and healthful reasons why it’s good for women to embrace the outdoors. Here are six reasons to unplug, go for a walk, smell the flowers, hear the birds, and even dig in the dirt a little.

Breathe the Fresh Air and Stay Out of the Mall
Of course you can exercise in a gym and walk indoors, but exercising outside (ecotherapy) decreases levels of depression more than exercising indoors. Studies by the University of Essex show that 71 percent of participants said they were less depressed after walking outside in a green area, while 22 percent felt more stressed after walking through a mall, while only 45 percent felt less depressed afterward. 90 percent reported higher self-esteem after the green walk, while 44 percent felt their self-esteem was lower after window shopping. Maybe it was seeing all those size 4’s on plastic models.

Leave the Mirror at Home
A study in Ecopsychology claims that the more time women spend outside, the more positive their body images become. The study participants were involved in numerous outdoor activities, including camping and gardening, and the more time they spent doing them, the higher their self-esteem rose. Researcher Kari Hennigan suggested that when they were outside, women were less likely to be bombarded with media images of models and campaigns for weight loss. A University of St. Thomas study focused on the opposite effect, suggesting that women who spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on their appearance display little green behavior or planet-friendly habits. The less time women spend in nature, the less they pay attention to or care about it.

Feel the Salt Air, Look at that View
Colorado State researcher, Gretchen Nurse believes that women appreciate nature’s sensory gifts more than men, and seek out pungent flowers, vivid sunsets, wind rustled boughs, and crashing waves for their visceral effect. Psychology Today author Katherine Schrieber explains that, “Women are also extra likely to believe nature has inherent value – and that it shouldn’t be saved for, say, its useful natural resources.”

Go On, Stick Your Hands in the Dirt
Now that you’ve left the mall and are walking outside, try gardening. A Netherlands study asked two groups to participate in a stressful activity. Afterward, one group went inside and read a book for 30 minutes. The other group gardened for the same amount of time. Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign believes that our ever-connected world is stressing us out, and gardening is the perfect way to unplug. The relative quiet and the mindless tasks of gardening help relaxation.

Listen to the Birds
In addition to the stimuli of being constantly connected, our society is getting louder as the number of people, cars and other power equipment increase. A study in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America suggests that bird song can offset unpleasant human noise. Of course it doesn’t mask traffic noise or your neighbor’s lawn mower completely, but results showed that people were happier when birds supplemented honking horns and diesel engines. Another study claims that bird songs, which are loudest in the mornings, help humans develop a consistent sleep cycle, having a positive effect on sleep.

Healing Powers
Our society is increasingly reliant on manufactured pharmaceuticals to cure all of our ills, despite their sometimes severe side effects. There are more chemicals in our food, in our clothing and in our homes. Many scoff at the idea of natural remedies, but studies show that some plants show promise and could have restorative properties. Graviola (leaves from the guanabana tree) has been proven to destroy certain cancer cells in the body, but premature hype and numerous scams caused the scientific community to denounce its effects and further research has been slowed due to the taint attached to it. There have been no large scale tests on humans, so there is no way to know if it could be a serious alternative to manufactured drugs and chemotherapy, but it would be nice if a natural cure could be found.

So…what are you waiting for? Go get some fresh air.

image credits: Trey Ratcliff, Dr. Pat, Andrew R. Whalley, Amarit Opassetthakul, Hamed Saber, John&Fish, saratf

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.