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Immune System May be Improved by Spending Time in Nature and the Outdoors

First Posted: Sep 21, 2015 07:17 AM EDT

Spending time in nature is actually linked to good health. Now, scientists are taking a closer look at why this might be the case.

"I pulled every bit of the research in this area together that I could find, and was surprised to realize I could trace as many as 21 possible pathways between nature and good health-and even more surprised to realize that all but two of the pathways shared a single common denominator," said Ming Kuo, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Apparently, nature protects against diseases where the immune system plays a major role. Nature actually switches the body into "rest and digest" mode, which is the opposite of the "fight or flight" mode. When the body is in "fight or flight" mode, it shuts down everything that is immediately nonessential, including the immune system.

"When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes-growing, reproducing, and building the immune system," said Kuo. "When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it's safe, it invests resources toward the immune system."

Being able to relax in the outdoors actually also increases the amount of phytoncides, mycobacterium vaccae, negative air ions, vitamin D-producing sunlight and other positive active ingredients that you're exposed to.

The findings reveal that when it comes to fighting off infection, spending some time in the outdoors may be a good thing. In addition, it shows that cities should pay attention to access to green spaces in order to help improve public health.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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