Enjoying Nature Can Decrease Inflammation Levels, Study Says


Researchers at Cornell University have discovered a connection between the enjoyment of nature and reduced inflammation, providing a potential biological link to the health benefits of nature. The study, which focused on various markers of inflammation, suggests that regular, enjoyable interactions with nature could help prevent or manage diseases associated with chronic inflammation, such as heart disease and diabetes.

“The study provides a biological explanation for why nature might improve health," said the lead investigator, Anthony Ong, PhD, Director of the Center for Integrative Developmental Science in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell.

Published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the study utilized data from the second wave of the Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) survey, a longitudinal study examining health and aging across the United States. Dr. Ong's team concentrated on a subset of 1,244 participants, predominantly women, with an average age of 54.5 years.

Participants underwent physical health evaluations and provided extensive biological assessments, which included a physical examination, urine samples, and blood draws taken after an overnight fast. They also reported their frequency of being outdoors in nature and their enjoyment of these experiences.

The research focused on three different inflammation indicators: interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein, and fibrinogen. Each of these decreased after frequent, positive experiences in nature. The team found that these benefits were consistent even after accounting for other influencing factors such as demographics, health behaviors, medication use, and general well-being.

“It’s a pretty robust finding,” Dr. Ong noted. He emphasized the importance of both exposure and experience, stating, “It’s only when you have both, when you are engaging and taking enjoyment out of it, that you see these benefits.”

Dr. Ong also stressed the importance of being mindful while in nature, taking the time to truly enjoy it. “It’s good to remind ourselves that it’s not just the quantity of nature,” he said, “it’s also the quality.”