Why taking the road less traveled is good for your health

October 17, 2014, 1 p.m.
road-to-paradice

Nature is good for you — and we have the science to prove it

We've seen study after study over the years that illustrate how being close to nature — or even just seeing the color greencan have benefits that range from helping you recover more quickly from injury or illness to lowering stress levels. In Japan, there's even a term for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. It is considered preventative medicine. Outside Magazine reported:

"This isn’t an entirely new idea. Beginning in the 1970s, researchers at the University of Michigan, led by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, noticed that psychological distress was often related to mental fatigue. Modern life demands what the Kaplans call sustained directed attention on tasks both important and mundane — checking email, working a desk job, finding a parking spot. What leads to resting our brains’ directed-attention function? 'Soft fascination,' explains Rachel Kaplan from her plant-filled university office. This is what happens when you watch a butterfly or the sunset or rain. You can’t help but stop multitasking or kvetching. That’s why Kaplan recommends a decidedly nonathletic approach to the outdoors, at least at times."

Forest bathing — simply getting out for a walk in the park or on a hiking trail — is a mix of exercise, escaping little stressors that add up (like chronic Facebooking and proximity to WiFi in general), breathing in fresh air and looking at calming scenes that combine to create a heady and healthy sigh of relief.

So taking the road less traveled isn't all about being adventurous, it's about being healthy! If that isn't an excellent reason to head out the door more often to a local nature preserve — or even to somewhere more difficult to reach, like Mount Rainier National Park in the photo above — then we don't know what is. If you're looking for a way to spend an afternoon or a weekend, make taking a road that heads away from urban settings and draining social connectivity and into an offline wilderness reserve a priority. Your doctor will thank you for it.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Google+ and Facebook.