It may not match the strength of drug therapies, but new research suggests that enjoying time in nature can have direct beneficial effects on the body’s inflammatory processes.

According to a study from Cornell University researchers, more frequent positive contact with nature was independently associated with lower circulating levels of three different indicators of inflammation.

Exposure to nature could be linked to reduction of diseases of chronic inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes, the researchers say.

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. Analyses focused on a subset of 1,244 individuals (57% women, 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, reduced levels of inflammation were consistently associated with more frequent positive contact with nature.

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