We all know that spending time in nature can be relaxing and rejuvenating, but did you know that it can also positively impact your brain function?
I’ve personally found that just being outside makes me feel more productive each day. For example, on occasion I’ll go surfing and sometimes there just aren’t any waves to catch, but just being on the water and paddling brings my stress down and helps me feel more balanced for the day.
Studies on the benefits of being in nature
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve your memory, attention span, and overall cognitive function. In fact, exposure to nature has been shown to increase creativity, reduce stress, and even boost your mood.
A study from Cornell states that “it takes as few as 10 minutes in a natural setting for college students to feel happier and lessen the effects of stress both physically and mentally“.
One of the key ways that nature benefits our cognition is through its ability to reduce stress levels. Stress can have a negative impact on our brain function, leading to difficulties with memory and attention. However, spending time in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, and improve overall well-being.
In addition to reducing stress, nature can also improve attention and memory. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that a walk in nature improved memory performance and attention in adults.
Another study found that students who had views of nature from their classrooms performed better on attention tests than those who didn’t.
Nature can also boost creativity and problem-solving skills. A study found that exposure to nature increased creativity and improved problem-solving abilities. This is likely due to the calming and restorative effects of nature, which allows the brain to work more effectively and efficiently.
How being in nature can help hospital patients recover
One of the ways that nature can help hospital patients is by helping patients recover more quickly by boosting their immune system and improving their cognition.
There are a million reasons why being in a hospital is poor for your health, and exposure to the outside air can actually help your body fight off infection.
One study actually found the substances produced by plants and trees can help our bodies better fight foreign pathogens. I’m not sure how quickly this happens but it’s just another reason why people need to get out more.
For patients who have dementia, a hospital is one of the worse places to exacerbate sundowning or increase agitation. Being in an unfamiliar place can also make delirium worse.
Alternatively, being in nature can stimulate the brain, increase attention span, memory, and enhance overall cognitive abilities that are needed for hospital patients to be able to return home.
Think about how you could have a positive impact on your patients by improving their exposure to nature.
So, whether it’s a walk in the park, a hike in the woods, or just sitting and enjoying the beauty of nature, make sure to take some time to immerse yourself in nature every day.
Find a friend, a roommate, or a hospital patient, and soak it up. Your brain will thank you for it!
David is the lead editor of OT Focus. He has been practicing as an Occupational Therapist since 2013. He specializes in acute care, hand therapy, and ergonomics.