Nature is neat: The scientifically supported benefits of enjoying the outdoors

Spending time in the natural environment has many health benefits including reducing stress, fighting depression and anxiety, improving one’s ability to focus, improving blood pressure, decreasing cancer risk, improving memory, combating fatigue and sparking curiosity and creativity. Nature provides the perfect space to reflect, process experiences, connect with others, and learn about ourselves.

Most of us spend our waking hours inside schools or offices, our eyes on screens, our bodies in chairs and under the glow of fluorescent lights. By night, we return home to respond to more work, do laundry, make dinner and chauffeur kids to their various activities. Our kids spend their evenings completing school work, in structured sports and activities, playing video games, watching YouTube, and talking with friends on social media.

So how can we find time to reap the benefits of the natural environment in our fast-paced world?

First, we need to decide we value nature, both for the experience and for its identified benefits.

Cornell University environmental psychologist, Nancy Wells, PhD, found in a study of 337 school-age children, “…the presence of nearby nature bolsters a child's resilience against stress and adversity, particularly among those children who experience a high level of stress.”

Green space is plentiful in the Fox Valley and enjoying it doesn’t have to be left for the weekends. As the days get warmer, encourage your kids to take homework outside. As a family, have an afternoon snack or dinner on your porch or at a picnic table or park bench. Take an opportunity to hit trails, forest preserves, or even the neighborhood sidewalk for a 20-minute walk or exploration session before transitioning to the nightly routine.

For outdoor-based programming in our communities, check out the park district guides; they are doing a great job getting us into nature. Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles offers tons of programming and sends out neat information on social media. However, you get out there, enjoy the great outdoors!

Sarah Lloyd is a licensed clinical professional counselor and co-owner of the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy.