Four ways nature makes you healthier

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90 percent

People in developed nations spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. As people age, they typically become less inclined to venture out.

James Osmond

But research shows human vitality depends on the natural environment. We need clean air and water, as well as plenty of time outside, to live happily and healthily.

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A walk in the woods or swim in the sea relieves stress and improves mental health. These activities can have four amazing effects on the body which last long after you go back inside.

1. Natural immune booster

Christopher Hopefitch

A recent study found children who play in a forest-like environment for one month develop more diverse microbiomes and signs of a better-regulated immune system.

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The finding jibes with the biodiversity hypothesis: contact with natural environments enriches the human microbiome, promotes the immune system, and protects from allergies and inflammation. More research is needed to confirm the theory, but the early evidence is promising.

Chris Clor

Exposure to nature appears to switch the body into "rest and digest" mode — the opposite of the "fight or flight." In "fight or flight", the body shuts down nonessential functions, including the immune system.

2. Disease fighter

Michael Freeman

Chris Clor

Without time in nature, people may experience chronic stress, which is tied to digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, and weight gain.

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The quality of evidence for these links varies, but living in greener urban areas is tied to lower odds of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, being hospitalized for asthma complications, mental distress, and ultimately, mortality.

"Nature doesn't just have one or two active ingredients. It's more like a multivitamin that provides us with all sorts of the nutrients we need."

Ming Kuo, a University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher

3. Natural Painkiller

Steve West

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In a 2016 study, people with chronic, widespread pain who engaged in forest therapy reported significant decreases in pain and depression, and improvement in health-related quality of life.

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In 2005, University of Pittsburgh researchers reported that people who had spinal surgery experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during recovery if they were exposed to natural light.

4. Sleep Solution

Roos Koole

Sunlight is linked to vitamin D production, the release of nitric oxide, production of beta-endorphins, and regulation of circadian rhythms. This means a better night's sleep and better mood can come from venturing into nature and basking in sunlight.

"Exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease."

Andy Jones, University of East Anglia

Charles Harker

Spending time in nature is relatively easy. All it takes is a bit of motivation to step out of the home and into the great outdoors. Experts recommend 120 minutes of nature-time a week.

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