Outdoor Enjoyment Linked to Less Inflammation

Summary: A new study reveals a biological link between enjoying nature and reduced inflammation levels, which could help in preventing or managing chronic inflammation-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

The study analyzed data from the Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) survey, focusing on 1,244 participants, and found that frequent positive interactions with nature correlated with lower levels of three key inflammation markers. Despite accounting for variables like health behaviors and general well-being, the relationship between nature enjoyment and reduced inflammation remained strong.

This insight underscores the health benefits of not only spending time in nature but also the quality of these interactions.

Key Facts:

  1. The study involved 1,244 participants from the MIDUS survey, showing that enjoyment of nature is linked to lower inflammation markers.
  2. Positive interactions with nature were associated with reduced levels of inflammation, independent of other health behaviors or demographic factors.
  3. The research highlights the importance of both the frequency and quality of nature interactions in achieving health benefits.

Source: Cornell University

New Cornell University research connects enjoyment of nature to a specific biological process – inflammation.

The study showed that more frequent positive contact with nature was independently associated with lower circulating levels of three different indicators of inflammation.

This shows a woman walking in the woods.
“It’s good to remind ourselves that it’s not just the quantity of nature,” he said, “it’s also the quality.” Credit: Neuroscience News

“By focusing on these inflammation markers, the study provides a biological explanation for why nature might improve health,” said Anthony Ong, professor of psychology, “particularly showing how it might prevent or manage diseases linked to chronic inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes.”

For their study, the team used the second wave of the Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) survey, a longitudinal study of health and aging in the United States. Ong’s analyses focused on a subset of individuals – 1,244 participants, 57% women, with a mean age of 54.5.

The participants were asked how often they experienced being out in nature, as well as how much enjoyment they got from it. Even when controlling for other variables such as demographics, health behaviors, medication and general well-being, Ong said his team found that reduced levels of inflammation were consistently associated with more frequent positive contact with nature.

“It’s a pretty robust finding,” Ong said. “And it’s this sort of nexus of exposure and experience: It’s only when you have both, when you are engaging and taking the enjoyment out of it, that you see these benefits.”

“It’s good to remind ourselves that it’s not just the quantity of nature,” he said, “it’s also the quality.”

Funding: This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

About this inflammation and neurology research news

Author: Becka Bowyer
Source: Cornell University
Contact: Becka Bowyer – Cornell University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Engagement with nature and proinflammatory biology” by Anthony Ong et al. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity


Engagement with nature and proinflammatory biology


Prior evidence indicates that contact with nature improves physical health, but data explicitly linking engagement with nature to biological processes are limited.


Leveraging survey and biomarker data from 1,244 adults (mean age = 54.50 years, range = 34–84 years) from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS II) study, we examined associations between nature engagement, operationalized as the frequency of pleasant nature encounters, and systemic inflammation. Concentrations of interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and fibrinogen were measured from fasting blood samples. Analyses adjusted for sociodemographic, health behavior, and psychological well-being covariates.


More frequent positive nature contact was independently associated with lower circulating levels of inflammation.


These findings add to a growing literature on the salubrious health effects of nature by demonstrating how such experiences are instantiated in downstream physiological systems, potentially informing future interventions and public health policies.

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