Living close to nature is often lauded and celebrated, but what does living close to nature mean? How can it promote your health and well-being? What’s the science behind the health benefits of getting outside and how can it make our families healthier and happier?
Nature versus culture
Strictly speaking, the binary of nature and culture is purely arbitrary. Many Euro-American societies define nature as “inherent in the physical world, rather than man-made or related to humanity,” but, of course, this definition fails. Humans are part of the physical world. The outside environment impacts us, and we impact the environment. The lines are blurry.
For example, visit almost any landscape in the world and you will experience the effects of human action. The Scottish Highlands, one of the most stunning and striking vista in the world, are barren of trees, thanks to thousands of years of human logging activity. The very animals that exist in North America today are the direct or indirect result of thousands of years of human hunting, and the animals that survived shaped the grasslands that we know today.
What is nature and how can we live close to it?
Nature can be defined as greenspaces, where you can feel a sense of joy and interconnectedness with the environment, in all of its human and inhuman aspects. Living close to greenspaces or other outdoor spaces, like deserts or waterways, gives us a sense of joy, creativity and wonder in these interconnections between the human and the non-human.
Thus, living close to nature is living near places or frequenting places where you can encounter your sense of wonder, awe, playfulness and joy. Do you like biking in the woods? Hunting fowl on a South Carolina plantation? Horseback riding or learning how to shoot trap? The activity isn’t nearly as important as your sense of home in the outdoors.
Let’s examine eight of the top benefits that come from living close to nature.
1. It can lower your risks of premature death and many diseases.
According to a study conducted by the University of East Anglia, exposure to greenspace, “even if it’s just relaxing in the grass,” can help reduce your risk of dying a premature death or one due to preventable causes. Pair it with an activity you love and the health benefits skyrocket. Here are some of the adverse health outcomes living close to nature helps to prevent:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type II diabetes
- Pre-term birth
- High blood pressure
2. It reduces fatigue.
Far from being draining or exhausting, spending time living close to nature can help you fight fatigue, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Disconnecting from urban and suburban pressures that, in turn, disconnect us from the broader environment can help us feel like we’re an active, healthy and vibrant part of the wider world.
3. It can help reduce inflammation and stress.
Researchers in China have found that simply walking, sitting or lying in the woods (forest bathing) can reduce markers of inflammation and stress (cortisol) in the bloodstream. As inflammation seems to be correlated in several health conditions, this is excellent news. Head outside and get rid of some of your inflammation, stress, pain and fatigue.
4. It can alleviate symptoms of depression.
In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found that interacting with nature helped alleviate mood-related symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, such as:
- Lost interest in activities
- Poor memory
- Limited attention span
- Mood swings
- Low mood
5. It can help improve focus and memory.
Time spent in nature can help improve concentration and memory, regardless of your mental health background. A study at the University of Michigan found that a few minutes spent in nature can improve your short-term memory by 20 percent. That’s a significant increase, one that could improve your sense of functioning and well-being at home and work.
6. It can help you make memories.
On the flip side, living in nature can help you make positive memories. Horseback riding with your kids can help form memories that will last a lifetime, and hunting duck or pheasants with your best friend will almost certainly produce some stories for future reference. Memories are the spice of life, so why not make as many positive memories as you can?
7. It makes exercise easier.
Living close to nature puts you near a variety of physical activities. But a lot of these activities don’t feel like a workout. They don’t feel like a chore or something you have to do.
Instead, these activities are often what many of us think of when we try to come up with an idea of a fun, relaxing or luxurious time. Hunting, skeet shooting, horseback riding, fishing and boating, all entail more movement than many of us get over the course of a day sitting at a desk. However, they’re also fun and enlivening, rather than tedious.
We’re more likely to do things that are fun and rewarding than those that feel like a chore. Therefore, living close to nature can help you find the joy in movement and exercise again. It can help you rediscover your inner child who can’t wait to play outside.
8. It helps you spend quality time with your family.
In today’s age of screens, social media and digital information, it can be challenging to feel like you have quality time with your family. Everyone is on their phone or tablet. However, getting outside can help you and your family put down the technology and connect.
Not only is everyone enjoying the benefits of “greenspace,” but you have an opportunity to engage in all of these health-affirming behaviors together. And that’s special.
Are you ready to move closer to nature, or at least spend more time out in it? Being outside and involved in the world beyond our human and screen-dominated concerns naturally gives us a sense of interconnectedness, peace and health. This has incredible effects on the rest of life. It helps to reduce anxiety, stress, inflammation and the risk of many potentially fatal diseases. Find your passion and get outside today.
Find out more about living off the grid.