Welcome to a world where worries dissipate and our bodies commune with their source. In the chaos of construction sites, offices, hospitals, courtrooms, and kitchens, it’s easy to forget the holistic sustenance of time in nature.
Did you know that science has unravelled the secrets of nature’s enchantment? It turns out that immersing ourselves in the natural world goes beyond its breathtaking beauty. Research has shown that spending time in nature profoundly impacts our well-being, from reducing stress to improving our mental health. Let’s dive into the fascinating science beneath nature’s serene facade and explore the wonders waiting in a park near you.
As we enter nature’s sanctuary, we enter a mental and emotional well-being realm. The mere act of going outside for 20 minutes can work wonders for our mood, creativity, and overall mental health. The longer, the better (just stay safe by wearing sunscreen).
The science behind nature and well being
Picture yourself taking a leisurely walk in one of Toronto’s surprisingly lush forests, tending to a garden full of vibrant blooms and almost-ripe fruit, or soaking in the vistas at any campsite. Feels good, right? Well, it’s not just you! This study has shed light on the therapeutic wonders of such activities.
The researchers (Coventry, Brown, et al.) examined an extensive body of scientific literature to understand the mechanisms underlying the positive effects of nature on human health. They discovered that nature exposure is associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced stress, improved cognitive function, enhanced mood, and increased physical activity.
Stress and emotional benefits
They found that spending time in natural environments can significantly reduce stress levels. This is attributed to the soothing effect of nature, which promotes relaxation and helps us disconnect from the pressures of everyday life. The study highlights that even short interactions with nature, such as a walk in a park or sitting on a waterfront boardwalk, can provide immediate stress relief.
Stress relief can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study suggests combining sensory stimuli, such as the sight of lush landscapes and the sounds of birdsong, elicits positive emotions and fosters a sense of well-being.
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Chronic stress can tax our mental and physical health, but nature is a natural stress reliever. When we immerse ourselves in the serene beauty of natural environments, our cortisol levels decrease, allowing us to experience a sense of calm and relaxation. The fresh air and the sounds of nature stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes rest and relaxation.
These findings are attributed to serotonin, the “happiness hormone,” which is crucial in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. Spending time in nature has been found to increase serotonin production, leading to an overall sense of well-being and contentment. Dopamine, on the other hand, is associated with motivation and reward. When we engage in outdoor activities, dopamine is released, creating feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Naturally, taking care of ourselves feels good.
Nature contact is shown to have a positive impact on our cognitive function. The study reveals that spending time in nature enhances our attention span, boosts creativity, and improves our ability to focus. The green and blue hues of natural environments have a calming effect on our minds, allowing us to think more clearly and effectively.
Beyond the neurotransmitters and hormones, nature exposure also impacts our physiological functioning in other remarkable ways. Research has found that spending time in green spaces can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and improve cardiovascular health.
Physical and physiological benefits
Additionally, nature contact encourages physical activity, which is crucial for maintaining good health. The study emphasizes that outdoor activities like hiking, gardening, or simply strolling in a park promote movement and exercise. This enhances physical fitness and contributes to weight management, cardiovascular health, and longevity.
Furthermore, nature exposure has been linked to improvements in gut health. Our gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms residing in our digestive system, plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. Spending time in natural environments exposes us to diverse microorganisms found in the soil, air, and vegetation. This exposure can enhance the diversity of our gut microbiome, which is associated with better immune function, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation.
So, are you ready to embrace the healing power of nature? The GTA may be an urban area, but we’re blessed with many nature-rich areas and activities! And summer is the perfect time to be in the GTA. The hardest is planning and choosing from everything to see and do.
Things to do in Toronto’s nature in 2023
Spring is the worst time for allergies, but allergens can still appear all through summer. Here’s how you can stop pesky seasonal allergies at their root.
1. Visit the Toronto Islands
You’ll have several beaches to choose from, including Hanlan’s Point Beach, known for its clothing-optional policy. The islands also have kilometres of green space for cycling, hiking, and picnicking.
You can take a ferry from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, which takes around 15 minutes and costs $9 per person (including your return trip). You can also take a private water taxi from several locations along Queens Quay, which costs $12 per person for a one-way trip.
2. Explore Rouge Park
Explore over 50km of hiking trails, birdwatching, fishing, and camping opportunities. Rouge Park houses various wildlife like deer, foxes, and over 270 species of birds. The park is free to visit and provides a whole day’s worth of activities.
3. Soak in Scarborough Bluffs
The Scarborough Bluffs is a stretch of coastline offering breathtaking views of Lake Ontario. The bluffs are a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. Several parks along the bluffs, including Bluffer’s Park, are known for their large sandy beaches.
4. Gaze at the Skyline by boat or kayak around the lake
Boat tours are a great way to see Toronto from a different perspective. Sunset tours are my favourite!
And if you’re up for some exercise, kayaking around Lake Ontario is a unique way to experience Toronto’s natural beauty. You can rent kayaks and take a guided tour from several companies along Queens Quay. If you want to move at your own pace, you can do that too.
5. Meander through High Park
High Park is a large plot of green and blue land in Toronto’s west end, offering numerous activities like hiking, fishing, and swimming. There’s also a zoo, playgrounds, sports fields, a pool, a dog park, flower gardens, and a lake in the park.
6. Visit a botanical garden
Toronto is home to several beautiful botanical gardens, including the Allan Gardens Conservatory and the Toronto Botanical Garden, which house various exotic plants and flowers. The gardens are a great place to relax, enjoy nature, and even picnic with friends. The gardens also offer guided tours to learn about the different plants and flowers on display.
7. Walk to the Evergreen Brickworks
Connected to the Don Valley Ravine, you can spend a whole day walking or biking through a world that doesn’t feel like it’s in the middle of a big city. There’s even a farmers’ market every Saturday from 9am to 1pm.
8. Go camping
If roughing it is your thing, Ontario has over 100 parks for your escape. It’s best to reserve a campsite at least a week in advance – you’re not the only one who wants that perfect corner lot by the water!
9. Relax at the beach
Which beach you go to depends on how “out of the city” you want to feel, so check the full list of beaches in the GTA.
10. Explore patios if you work remote
There’s a near infinite number of beautiful, nature-exposed patios to visit in Toronto, so I’ll stick to my son’s favourites.
i) Fika Cafe
Fika is a hidden gem. Located in the heart of Kensington Market this cafe offers drinks, snacks, sandwiches, a wall inside covered with open books, and a sunny outdoor patio with tables and a hammock!
ii) Boxcar Social
Boxcar Social has locations across the city but their newest spot is on the Toronto waterfront. Enjoy your coffee or lunch with stunning views of Lake Ontario right in front of you (unless there happens to be construction).
iii) Cafe Pamenar
One of the greenest patios on this list. Order your coffee inside and then walk through the cafe to their hidden back patio and you’ll enter a green oasis filled with a canopy of trees and vines covering the walls!
iv) Rooster Coffee House
Rooster Coffee House also has a couple locations around the Toronto area but it’s their location on Broadview that has the sunny outdoor seating you need to take advantage of this summer. This cafe is full of unique decor like their luggage as coffee tables, glass chandeliers and so much more.
v) Jimmy’s Coffee
Jimmy’s Coffee is one of those classic coffee chains in the city that doesn’t feel like a chain at all. They have multiple locations in Toronto that serve up consistently good coffee and baked goods every time. If you head over to their location in Baldwin Village you’ll find a relaxing back patio complete with plans and sunshine!
vi) Cafe 23
This two-level patio is one of West Queen West’s best-kept secrets, with a private garden feel, locally roasted coffee, and fantastic food
So, are you ready to embrace the healing power of nature? Step outside, breathe in the fresh air, feel the warmth of sunlight on your skin, and let the wonders of the natural world rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul. Prioritize nature in your daily routine, seek out green spaces, and immerse yourself in the captivating wonders that await you. Nature’s prescription is calling – will you answer?