The era of lockdowns and social distancing—as well as an acute awareness of the destruction of the environment spurred by COVID-19 travel restrictions—has placed a new value on the innate benefits of the great outdoors.
At the November Global Wellness Summit (GWS), a panel of media experts predicted six key trends, and among them was a newfound, deep connection to nature. Of course, the need for nature was already on the rise before the pandemic hit; the crisis has only served to amplify what many wellness experts were already saying—humans have an innate need to convene with the wider world (not just their screens), and there is plenty of science to back up the benefits of spending time in nature.
In fact, GWS trend forecasters have long been touting the wellness benefits of nature and were the first to identify the now-ubiquitous concept of “Forest Bathing” as a key wellness trend in 2015. The concept, which originated in Japan, has exploded in popularity all over the world.
In 2019, GWS trend forecasters predicted that in the not too far off future, doctors would be “Prescribing Nature.” The conclusion of this trend feels incredibly prescient in light of the pandemic’s impact on our need for nature in 2020: “Imagine going to your doctor and, instead of a prescription for some named or generic pharmaceutical, you instead receive a prescription for a 30-minute walk in nature. This is not actually that far-fetched. Put down the Prozac and pick up your walking shoes.”
With hindsight being 2020, we can all agree that “nature as medicine” is definitely not far-fetched!
On the last day of 2020, WebMD published an article outlining all the ways nature can help with the COVID-19 stress. With author and professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, John Norcross, PhD, saying of the benefits of connecting with nature: “We call it ‘vitamin N’…and tell people that vitamin N is [spending] 30 minutes in nature.”
On the 2020 GWS wellness trends panel, Elaine Glusac, travel columnist for the New York Times, explained that slow, human-powered travel (cycling, hiking, walking, paddling trips) is growing fast, not only because they’re wellness experiences, but because they’re naturally socially distanced activities. She argued that there is an uptick in interest in sustainable travel—and in the newer concept that takes it even further, regenerative travel, which is not just reducing your carbon footprint, but actually leaving the place better than you found it.
The beauty of nature is that you don’t have to go too far to experience it—a huge boon for driveable destinations in a time when air travel is pretty much off the table. Wellness destinations situated within intrinsically beautiful locations are amping up their outdoor programming and marketing closer to home. RV sales are way up. Sales of bikes and hiking and camping gear are through the roof. And, with everyone spending more time at home, there’s a marked movement to bring the indoors outside, creating new outdoor spaces that are comfy and cozy and enable social distancing.
Another benefit? In a time when many are profoundly cash strapped, getting out in nature alone or with friends can also be completely free while being utterly freeing to our minds—making it the great mental wellness equalizer.
The Global Wellness Institute’s recent study, “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy,” reported, “most mental wellness strategies are free—like spending time in nature.” And the data backs up the benefits: In a recent study published in Medical News Today on how the pandemic has influenced our relationship with nature, 60% of respondents reported improved mental health and wellbeing after being outdoors.