Noted genius Albert Einstein once said: “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” That’s just one of the many reasons that people should make a point of taking a moment to enjoy the great outdoors. There are proven scientific benefits to planning a trip to revel in the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, or breathe in the fresh air of the Florida Keys, paddle along Caddo Lake, or even just going for a walk in your local park.
“Exposure to nature increases people’s social wellbeing,” Holli-Anne Passmore told Popular Science. Passmore knows this because she published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology that revealed the overwhelming importance of nature to mental health. Her research showed that even brief moments appreciating the natural world can lead to better moods and “a general sense of connectedness to other people, to nature and to life as a whole.” This study wasn’t just a fluke, either. Time and again science has proven what many Southerners knew all along—a moment under a live oak, the sight of a magnolia in full bloom, or a starry night under Southern skies is good for the soul.
A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that elderly city-dwellers who lived near forests had higher activity levels in the part of their brain that helps manage stress. In fact, their stress levels were even lower than those of people who lived near city parks. The researchers concluded that it was the proximity to nature that made the older people calmer and happier, not just emotionally, but physically.
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It’s not just the elderly who benefit from access to nature, either. Researchers studied 1,500 children in Spain and found that those who lived in houses surrounded by plant life (think: gardens, bushes, trees, and flowers) scored higher on two different tests than those who lived in houses without greenery around them. Not only were the children who grew up around nature better at paying attention, but they also had a deeper sense of wonder and calmer minds and were less likely to show behavioral and emotional problems, all thanks to greenery.
If those two studies aren’t enough to make you want to take a nature walk, consider this: A study, published in the journal Environment and Behavior, showed that even short amounts of time in nature can have a huge psychological impact. Just 30 minutes staring at the water of Trophy Lakes lapping at the shore, or wandering the green-lined paths at Bellingrath Gardens can calm minds, raise moods, and generally make people happier.