The Benefits of Spending Time in Nature


Harper Treschuk

The novelty and excitement of new teachers, new classes, and tryouts often can transition into heavy workloads, exhaustion, and stress at the beginning of the school year. As the bright green of summer woodlands fades into a magnificent display of orange, scarlet, and golden hued leaves, FLHS students caught up in the focus of homework, sports, clubs, and social media can forget that there is a beautiful natural world behind the drab grey of classrooms, lockers, and gymnasiums. But research suggests that spending time outdoors has a myriad of direct, quantifiable benefits for both mental and physical health that can’t be ignored.

In a world of instantaneous and close connectivity, the use of electronic devices is diminishing humanity’s connection with nature. Living in cities and suburbs, people have become increasingly reliant on smartphones and other forms of technology, and spent less time outdoors in comparison, a trend psychologist Richard Louv describes as nature deficit disorder. However, a mere five minutes in a green setting has important, perhaps vital, health benefits. Ludlowe science teacher Ms. Waack stresses how important it is for students to expand on their connection with the outdoor world. “I have always enjoyed time outdoors,” she says, “and one of the things I love to impart on my students…is to respect the natural world after being in my classroom. Respecting nature and all the gifts that come with nature is important for me.”

Even though time in nature may seem irrelevant in the face of modern life, where youth have an abundance of activities and priorities vying for their attention, the human brain is still developed to ancestral life in the natural elements. Spending time in nature can restore and renew the mind to better handle the demands of a fast-paced lifestyle. Taking a bike ride, a stroll in the park, or a run in the forest can boost mental well-being and provide a much-needed break from constant stimulus and directed attention. Nature promotes a sense of belonging to the wider world, enhances creativity, reduces fatigue, increases ability to focus, and improves the mood. It also provides a variety of restorative physical benefits, boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, increasing energy level, and benefitting sleep. Although spending time in nature in any form can be beneficial, natural locations with trees or woodland settings are thought to maximize the stress-reduction benefits of being outdoors.

What are practical ways that students can spend time in nature? Sophomore student Andrew McKinnis notes that he experienced the beauty of nature while in New York on vacation and enjoyed “[being] on the lake and [taking] hikes because there is some really nice scenery.” Sophomore Cate McNamara adds that the calming benefits of nature can also be found closer to home and explains, “I really enjoy going for a hike through the woods behind my house before a big test or an audition. It gives me a great feeling of relief and helps me release any tension and anxiety from my mind.” Sophomore Colette Ward describes her favorite places in nature as “the beach, my patio, and Lake Mohegan,” and writes, “I’ll take my dog out to play or walk him, read a book, or just sit outside to clear my head.” 

So, the next time you hit a rut in your project, are feeling fatigued, or can’t get rid of your stress, remember to step outside. It’s a practical prescription that will restore your mind and renew your sense of belonging to the natural world that you can find in even suburban surrounds.