“Nature alone cures,” Florence Nightingale instructed her fellow nurses in Notes on Nursing—and we’ve continued to follow that principle, creating a healing environment for our patients that involves fresh air and sunlight. That same environment can promote health in nurses as well.

What the Research Tells Us

Research confirms what Nightingale knew: nature possesses therapeutic properties. Exposure to nature has both mental and physical advantages, including boosting the immune system, facilitating relaxation, and decreasing stress. Studies reported statistically significant improvements in blood pressure, heart rate, salivary cortisol levels, and cholesterol levels after spending time in nature. Being outdoors also provides opportunities for physical activity and social interactions, which can further enhance those benefits. Even viewing pictures of nature or bringing it indoors with house plants, flowers, or herbs produced positive results.

How to Practice

Nature isn’t just national parks, beaches, or mountains. It can be simpler than that, like the walking path outside the hospital, the courtyard near the cafeteria, or your own backyard. Even if just for five minutes, make an effort to get outside each day. Here are ideas for activities that can be done solo or with a friend:

  • Find a sport or exercise that you can practice outside.
  • Hike a local trail.
  • Enjoy a snack or meal outside on a break from work or at home.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset.
  • Take a walk outside on your lunch break.
  • Keep a plant at your desk.
  • Relax on a park bench.
  • Look at pictures from a trip when you spent time in nature.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed, step outside and spend some time in nature. Florence would want you to.