Want to Feel More Alive? Study Shows You Need to Go Outside

green hike path photo

Photo via cletch via Flickr CC

We kind of already know this - if not intuitively then through past studies - but a new study has shown that when you spend more time out in nature, you feel more alive. Published in this month's issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the study shows that getting out and communing with nature is better for feeling rejuvenated than reaching for the ever-so-urban cup of coffee. "Nature is fuel for the soul, " says Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Both physically and mentally, we're zippier when we step into the wild. Science Daily writes, "The findings, adds Ryan, are important for both mental and physical health. 'Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don't just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings,' says Ryan."

The idea of getting out in nature to improve our spirits and therefore our physical health goes hand in hand with nature deficit disorder - the diminished use of the senses, difficulty with attention and higher rates of illness associated with an estrangement from nature, from the real world. Past studies have even shown that we're kinder, more gentle folks when we feel in-touch with the natural world.

It really should come as no surprise that as we pull ourselves away from the world in which we evolved, that sustains us and keeps us ticking, we're going to function less efficiently. Think about it - how often have we witnessed animals living in captivity just wither away from depression or unexplained illness? Well, humans are animals. We need our green scene.

The authors of this particular study wanted to find out the effects of nature alone, apart from other factors. So, they performed five experiments on 537 college students, including sending them on a 15 minute walk through either a hallway or a tree-lined path, showing scenes of cityscapes or landscapes, and imagining themselves in scenes either sedentary or active, inside or out and with or without others. Across the board, those participants who spent time or imagined themselves in natural settings consistently felt more energetic, and the final results are that if you spend just 20 minutes a day in nature, vitality levels will significantly rise.

"We have a natural connection with living things," says Ryan. "Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments."

So, if you're feeling tired, listless, worn out, if you're pooped at parties... Go. Out. Side. In fact, there's an app for that.

Like this story and want more? Follow Jaymi on Twitter
More on The Effects of Nature on Our Psyche
Study Proves Good Design Means Healthier Patients
Nature Makes Us Nicer People, New Study Says
Good News: Americans are Spending More Time Outdoors

Related Content on Treehugger.com