How Nature Soothes the Soul

Scientific evidence for the benefits of outdoor recreation. /

The accumulations of dust, dirt, and mud on my childhood clothes were badges of honor—signs of a satisfying nature excursion. It’s not as if the woods were drawing me. They were just the natural place to go in the boondocks of Central Arkansas. But something happened to me when I traveled through those pine and oak woods; the crackling footfalls on dead leaves, the paradoxical stillness of rustling trees, and the unconditional acceptance of the Ozarks and Ouachita mountains always said, “You are somewhere different now.” They still do. I didn’t think much about it when I was young. The woods were just there, offering solitude, peace, quiet—escape from the distractions that noise and hurry impose.

As an adult, I started using a different word for my walks in the woods: medicinal.

Research has confirmed what we instinctively know: Nature is good for our psychological and physiological states. God’s provident gift of the outdoors not only feeds and clothes our physical selves, but also soothes our soul. In recent years, there has been growing attention to the neurological case for spending time in the woods.

In a 2010 study, for example, undergrads took two 15-minute walks. One was indoors, along an assigned empty hallway. The other was outdoors, on a tree-lined riverside path. The participants reported feeling more vitality walking on the river footpath. A simple wilderness excursion resulted in the participants feeling more alive and having more energy.

“Nature is fuel for the soul,” says Richard Ryan, lead author of the study. “We have a natural connection with living things… Nature is something within which we flourish.”

In a 2009 study, people who spent ...

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Issue 47 / April 28, 2016
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