Think about the last time you craved a sense of calm. Where did you wish to escape to? We bet it was somewhere outdoors, somewhere picturesque with calming sounds or birds chirping or water moving. If you went to your GP because you were stressed, do you think they’d prescribe time in nature to you? Probably not. But why not, we ask? 

The growing body of research, combined with our intuitive understanding that nature is vital to our health, as well as increased concerns about the increased use of technology, has led to a tipping point. Health experts, researchers, and government officials are now proposing widespread changes aimed at bringing nature into people’s everyday lives. During the global pandemic the NHS invested millions of pounds into ‘green prescriptions‘. This initiative sees the development of green spaces and green initiatives across the UK in order to tackle loneliness, mental and physical health issues, build stronger communities and improve individuals quality of living.

‘Nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,’ says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies the human connection with nature. ‘You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.’

Cognitive Benefit

Spending time in nature can act as a respite for our busy brains. Psychologist Marc Berman, PhD, and his student Kathryn Schertz reported in a 2019 review that green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children. Experiments have found that adults who are exposed to natural environments experience greater working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.

Research also shows how impressive nature’s healing powers can be – a few moments of green can energise a tired brain. Taking a break for fresh air and nature exposure in the middle of the day could be the secret to increased daily productivity and focus at work.

Even the sounds of nature may be recuperative. Berman and colleagues found that study participants who listened to nature sounds like crickets chirping and waves crashing performed better in cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds like traffic.

Happiness

In a review of the research, Gregory Bratman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, and colleagues shared evidence that contact with nature is associated with increased happiness, well-being, positive social interactions, a sense of meaning and purpose in life and decreases in mental distress.

The global pandemic inspired us to re-connect with nature and this is one positive that we must look to continue moving forward. As the Winter evenings approach and a sense of normality returns, it’s important we do not forget the benefits we felt from our newly acquired connection with the natural world. From outdoor experiences to the supplements we take, nature is fundamental to our health.

 

Sources:

  • https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health
  • American Psychological Association. (2020, April). Nurtured by nature. Sdl.Web.DataModel.KeywordModelData, 51(3). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature
  • Kathryn E. Schertz and Marc G. Berman Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019.
  • Van Hedger, S.C., et. al., Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2019.
  • Christopher J. Schell, Karen Dyson, Tracy L. Fuentes, Simone Des Roches, Nyeema C. Harris, Danica Sterud Miller, Cleo A. Woelfle-Erskine, Max R. Lambert The ecological and evolutionary consequences of systemic racism in urban environments, Science, 369, 6510, (2021). Science Advances, Vol. 5, No. 7, 2019.