By: Natasha Paleau, University of Maryland Public Health Graduate Student
“We are the children of the earth and removed from her our spirit withers.” – George Macaulay Trevelyan
Research abounds suggesting that spending time in the great outdoors can do wonders for your physical, mental, and emotional health.
And it’s no surprise – there are biological explanations for this. The sun’s rays trigger greater synthesis of vitamin D, which increases production of feel-good chemicals in your body. Being in fresher air improves your ability to breathe deeply, rid your lungs of impurities, and absorb more energy-bearing oxygen into your cells. And being outdoors usually means being more physically active, which in itself can result in a great deal of health benefits.
There are also social benefits to being in nature. On a recent camping trip without my usual technological devices, I was forcibly “unplugged” from the electronic world. I tuned in to the company I was with, enjoying several days of entirely face-to-face contact with my fellow campers.
I realized how much more meaningful my interactions were without those technological mediators, and how much happier I was being able to connect with people in a real way. We relied on each other to make food and fire, to navigate hiking trails, and to avoid any potential dangers. We also relied on each other for entertainment: singing songs, telling jokes, sharing stories.
The combination of beautiful settings, meaningful connections, and physical challenges made me feel healthy all over. For the first time in a long time, I was able to relax completely. I felt peace, calm, and a great clarity.
The research says that the benefits we reap from spending time in nature are independent of the benefits from those biological explanations above.
It’s more than just being physically active. It’s more than just being outdoors. It’s more than just the benefits that come from spending time with other people.
There is something inherently beneficial to being exposed to nature. But, what is it?
Perhaps there’s something spiritual about the experience of being engaged with our natural world. People often talk of going “back to nature,” as if being in nature is really our true state, and being out of it is abnormal.
Perhaps by spending time in a natural environment, we re-set our mind, body, and spirit to some intended frequency. We connect with other living things; we appreciate the beauty and majesty that our planet has to offer. We become aware of our smallness, interconnectedness, as well as the impact we have on Earth.
While we might not know exactly why, we know that nature is good for our wellness. So, try to get out of your built environment and into the real world as often as you can.
Out and About Near UMD
Our location is convenient for engaging with nature: there are trails, lakes, and forests all within a stone’s throw of College Park. Here are some great venues for connecting with nature, all within about 20 minutes of campus:
- Greenbelt Park
- The University of Maryland Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
- Lake Artemisia & The Paint Branch Trail
- The National Arboretum
- Sligo Creek Stream Valley Trail
- Rock Creek Park
And if you’re up to a short drive, there’s so much more in our surrounding area! All of these amazing natural wonders, and more, are within an hour of campus:
- Shenandoah National Park
- Cunningham Falls State Park
- Sugarloaf Mountain
- Great Falls waterfall & the Billy Goat Trail
- Gunpowder Falls State Park
- Green Ridge State Forest
- The Chesapeake Bay
The Outdoor Recreation Center at UMD
The Outdoor Recreation Center at Campus Recreation Services offers a variety of outdoor adventure trips, on which you can experience all of the benefits of the great outdoors with the guidance of a knowledgeable trip leader. Whether you’re interested in camping, hiking, biking, boating, or something else, CRS’ Outdoor Recreation Center has a trip to fit your adventure needs. If not, perhaps you can design a custom trip, or simply stop by their office for some advice or some equipment rental.
Being in nature is like free medicine for your mind, body, and spirit.
It’s a great way to relieve stress, get active, connect with others, and cleanse impurities. It helps you to experience the beauty and wonder of our world, and challenges you in meaningful ways, both physically and intellectually.
Share with us!
Where do you like to go to bask in the wonders of nature? What kinds of wellness benefits do you perceive when you’re there?