Being in nature relaxes the mind, which in turn enhances the immune system, new research finds.
This may explain why nature has a remarkably beneficial effect on a wide range of diseases including depression, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, obesity and many more.
Dr Ming Kuo, who carried out the research, explained how nature helps:
“When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes — growing, reproducing, and building the immune system.
When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.”
Being happy and relaxed are obviously good for your immune system in any case.
So relaxing indoor activities are also good for you, but probably not to the extent of being in nature, Dr Kuo said:
“If you are absorbed and relaxed, chances are your parasympathetic system is happy and your immune system is going to get a boost.
That said, these enjoyable indoor activities don’t provide the phytoncides, mycobacterium vaccae, negative air ions, vitamin D-producing sunlight, and other active ingredients found outdoors.
So we’d expect a smaller boost than you’d get from being in nature.”
To reach these conclusions, Dr Kuo reviewed a large range of studies on the connection between nature and good health.
She described nature as a sort of magical multivitamin:
“I pulled every bit of the research in this area together that I could find, and was surprised to realize I could trace as many as 21 possible pathways between nature and good health–and even more surprised to realize that all but two of the pathways shared a single common denominator.
The realization that there are so many pathways helps explain not only how nature promotes health, but also why nature has such huge, broad effects on health.
Nature doesn’t just have one or two active ingredients.
It’s more like a multivitamin that provides us with all sorts of the nutrients we need.
That’s how nature can protect us from all these different kinds of diseases–cardiovascular, respiratory, mental health, musculoskeletal, etc. — simultaneously.”
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Kuo, 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Mental plasters image from Shutterstock