Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative. We are spending more time indoors and online. But recent studies suggest that nature can help our brains and bodies to stay healthy.
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but also contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. The research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.
In addition, nature helps us cope with pain. Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort. This is nicely demonstrated in a study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital. More recent studies have shown similar results with scenes from nature and plants in hospital rooms.
One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to calmer and more balanced. Other studies show that time in nature or scenes of nature is associated with a positive mood, psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness, and vitality. Furthermore, time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.
The study suggests that residents of public housing who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbours, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees. In addition to this greater sense of community, they had a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.
How can nature benefit my mental health?
“I’ve had mild to moderate problems with anxiety, depression and OCD all my life. In recent years volunteering on my local city farm has been the most therapeutic thing I’ve ever done, besides good talking therapy.”
Spending time in green spaces or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. It can:
- Improve your mood
- Reduce feelings of stress or anger
- Help you take time out and feel more relaxed
- Improve your physical health
- Improve your confidence and self-esteem
- Help you be more active
- Help you meet and get to know new people
- Connect you to your local community
- Reduce loneliness
- Help you feel more connected to nature
- Provide peer support.
How can nature benefit my physical health?
1. Walking in Forests Boosts Immunity:
The study revealed the activity of people’s natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer. They measured the cells before and after forest bathing. These natural killer cells were significantly increased after spending just a day out in nature.
2. Living Near Trees Makes Us Healthier:
“Watching the birds and squirrels always has a calming effect and takes me out of my own head.”
Just living in areas with lots of trees can make a person healthier, both psychologically and physically. The lead researcher believes these health benefits could be the result of better air quality (trees help filter out pollution) and the fact that having trees nearby may encourage people to spend time outdoors.
3. Being in Nature Boosts Energy:
Walk-in outdoor and indoor environments, look at various photos (including ones of natural elements)–and report how they were feeling in all situations. In each situation, men and women reported an increase in vitality when around natural elements (both visually and when physically surrounded by nature).
4. Spending Time Outdoors Helps Us Age Gracefully:
People aged 70 or older who spend time outdoors every day report fewer sleep problems and aches and pains than those who stay indoors, according to a study published in the Journal of Aging Health
5. Walking Outside Increases Creativity:
In one study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that walking out of doors helps boost inspiration and inventiveness.
“Being out in nature is what we call ‘softly fascinating’,” Berman says, “which means it isn’t all-consuming–and doesn’t require any directed effort or attention. This allows the mind to wander or daydream a bit, which is linked to increased creativity.”
6. Natural Surroundings Improve Concentration:
The research, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, emphasizes the importance of taking nature breaks (going for a walk or even looking at a photo of a natural scene), particularly when stressed or mentally fatigued.
7. Nature Hikes Reduce Anxiety and Depression
A Stanford University study found that walking for 90 minutes in nature showed–through brain scans that track blood flow through the brain–decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with anxiety and depression. This study, the researchers say, shows that nature actually has the power to change the brain.
8. Nature Helps Recovery and Reduces Pain:
The researcher conducted a study on patients who underwent surgery. He found that patients who had a view of trees healed faster had less pain and had shorter hospital stays than those who had a view of a wall.
9. Seeing Nature Leads to Greater Work Satisfaction:
Office workers with a view of nature outside their windows liked their jobs more, had less stress and greater work satisfaction and were healthier, according to research published in the journal Public Health Reports.
There’s a big reason why a stroll in the public park, a hike in the wilderness, or a day at the beach is beneficial for our mental and physical health. Make it a habit to expose yourself to nature for at least two hours a week. You can do this alone or with your family or friends. Whether you want to practice self-care, avoid mood disorders, get through the week, or bond with family or friends, nature therapy can help.