A recent survey of 2,000 American adults revealed an absolutely incredible fact: over their lifetime, the average US adult will spend the equivalent of 44 years looking at a screen. This shocking statistic comes from looking at the breakdown of how we’re spending our day, with 4.5 hours watching TV, around 5 hours on computers, and over 3 hours on gaming devices.
In Brain Wash, we talked about the digital era at length and some of the potential harms of overusing the wrong forms of technology. But one of the most important considerations here may not be about the effects of all this screen time on our health. Instead, we need to think about the opportunity cost, or the question of what we’re forgoing with all this digital exposure. One major thing we’re losing is nature exposure.
For the majority of our time on Earth, humans spent their time in nature. The advent of the “concrete jungle,” air conditioning, and cubicles are, relatively speaking, very recent. We’ve sacrificed our time outside and in nature to something else. Unfortunately, we now understand that this may be a big mistake.
Research on the benefits of nature exposure has taken off over the last few decades. Time spent around natural elements is linked to lower levels of stress, improved immune function, and better mental health, among a variety of other benefits. Interestingly, some of these effects have also been seen with more limited encounters with nature including indoor plants and even tree-based essential oils.
From a neurological perspective, it’s thought that nature may give the brain a chance to reset from the hectic pace of the modern world. For example, exposure to natural elements may help to improve working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention. Nature may also improve thinking patterns. One interesting study showed that a 90-minute walk in a natural environment was linked to decreased rumination (repeated negative thoughts about the self).
With all this considered, most of us should try to incorporate more nature into our lives. This doesn’t have to mean a camping trip to Yosemite! It can be as simple as a stroll around the neighborhood or getting a new plant for your office. There may even be a benefit to watching nature shows or in bringing an essential oil like cedrol into your home.
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