Getting up close and personal with Mother Nature yields big mind-body benefits. A walk in the park is a great lunchtime activity, but new reports reveal that even desk jockeys and folks with little time – or no great love for the great outdoors – can reap the rewards of a green environment with only a few plants around their workplace and in their home.
But you can’t pack all your green time into a one-week vacation or a weekend excursion to the mountains; that’s like having seven drinks on Saturday night. No way it’s the same as having one glass of beer or wine per day! You need a little green time every – or almost every – day to reap its amazing benefits for your brain and body. Why?
• Stronger immunity: In a Japanese study, levels of protective natural killer cells that battle viruses and some forms of cancer rose 40 percent when businessmen spent time walking in the woods. But you can get a similar immune boost from sniffing forest scents indoors. Who says you can’t fool Mother Nature? (Well, really, your brain or your immune system.)
• A break from worry: Getting outside when you’re feeling stressed improves mood and boosts short-term memory. And if you’re depressed, getting out and about makes it five times more likely you’ll feel better than if you stay indoors. Combine natural scenery with exercise and you’re really going to amp up your mood boosters.
• More energy: Office workers feel more energetic with a green plant or two nearby, and they become more productive. Your smart move: Place some greenery where you can see it when you look up from your computer.
• Higher creativity: Brain scans suggest immersing yourself in a natural scene, whether 3-D or in a picture, turns up brain activity in areas that govern pleasure and emotion. You’ll feel more relaxed and balanced and improve your creativity by as much as 50 percent.
Ready to go green? Here’s how:
1. Got a minute? Stand under a tree. Or park yourself next to one. Even better, walk around a bush or beside a blooming garden. The more greenery you’re exposed to, the better the brain benefits.
2. Don’t feel like exercising outdoors? Go anyway. Compared with slogging on that treadmill in the basement, doing the same stroll or jog under blue skies and leafy, green tree boughs can add a 12 percent mood boost to your exercise. And don’t let rain stop you. Even getting outside in bad weather boosts mood more than an indoor workout.
3. Stuck at your desk? Call up images of nature on your computer. Simply looking at pictures of the outdoors can make you feel friendlier. While you’re at it, listening to soothing water and tweeting birds helps you rebound from a stressful experience 33 percent faster. (Check out archive.org’s free “Sounds of Nature Collection.”)
4. Take time to smell the pine trees. Japanese scientists say sniffing scents like pine and cypress is one reason nature walks strengthen immunity – a new reason to enjoy these smells. If you’re a fan of aromatherapy, you know what we’re talking about.
5. Create an indoor nature retreat. Although we are big fans of the benefits of outdoor physical activity, you can reap green benefits if you get on a treadmill with a view out the gym window! And position your home exercise equipment and a comfy chair so you have a view of outdoor greenery. There’s plenty of evidence that simply seeing greenery reduces stress, increases mental focus and fuels good moods.
But don’t stop there. Invite beneficial houseplants into your home. Live plants can help keep your home humidified, remove carbon dioxide from the air and send out revitalizing oxygen. Most do this by day, as they convert sunlight into energy. But orchids, “air plants” (a type of bromeliad), and many types of succulents exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide at night, making them perfect for your bedroom or your work station if you’re on the night shift.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of the “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.