Nature. There's something about the natural world that restores and brings peace to the body and soul, there's something that draws us towards it. Could there be something to these positive, innate feelings that we have? In fact, there has been 30 years or so of consistent evidence pointing the positive psychological health benefits nature can provide us. Makes sense, right? As an environmental science major with a specialization in human health and behavior, I have come across a lot of research that has built a strong case for nature as a health-promotive environment. I find it incredibly fascinating (so fascinating that I am doing a honors thesis on the impact of exercise in outdoor natural environments on psychological well-being and motivations) so I thought I'd share some of the most prevalent health outcomes of even just simply looking at nature.
1. Restores mental fatigue
You know that mind-numbing feeling you get when you've been staring at your screen all day long? If you feel irritable and unable to focus on your work, maybe it's time to take a break and get outside! The natural environment has been shown to be restorative to our ability to focus our attention. Spending a short period of time in a natural setting may help you to be more motivated to get back to your work or studies and be productive.
2. Reduces stress
Nature may activate the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest & digest") and lower cortisol levels in the body. This is extremely valuable due to the fact that living under prolonged periods of stress is associated with a large range of negative health consequences such as anxiety, depression, and poor health behaviors. As a college student, this is one of the biggest reasons why I incorporate nature into my self-care routine.
3. Improves mood
Spending just a short time in nature or looking at it has been shown to evoke positive emotions. Who doesn't want to be happier?
4. Increases self-control or willpower
Willpower is defined as a strong determination that allows you to do something difficult. How about motivating yourself to exercise? How about making healthy food choices? Or just getting through another semester of college? All of these things can be challenging, but spending time in nature can help give you the strength and self-control you need to make it through!
5. Increases overall life satisfaction
Life satisfaction is something we all strive for. Some of us look for it in success in our jobs, school, etc. However, maybe we should look outside instead for contentment and satisfaction. Research has shown that, in general, people who spend more time in nature tend to be more satisfied with their life.
So what can you do with this information? First of all, I would encourage you to purposefully go for walks, runs, etc. in natural areas as a part of your regular routine. This way, not only are you getting the benefits of physical activity, you're also benefiting from nature- this is referred to as green exercise or exercise in outdoor natural environments. Several studies have looked specifically at this concept and have found that exercising outdoors in nature is more beneficial to your physical and mental health than indoors or in built settings. However, sometimes, we don't always have the time or the access to a park or natural area. Ways to overcome this issue is by taking short breaks from your work or studies to look out a window with a view of nature (trees, grass, flowers, etc.) In fact, just the presence of natural light may be significantly beneficial. Finally, if you don't have access to a window with a view of nature, try adding indoor plants to your environment. Studies have shown than even simply having a potted plant in the room can bring about some of these benefits I've mentioned. I've hope you've found this post useful or at least in the very least interesting. I've listed credible sources at the end of this post if you are interested in exploring this topic more. Now, I will leave you with the following statement- get outdoors!
Beute, F., & de Kort, Y.A.W. (2014). Natural resistance: Exposure to nature and self-regulation, mood, and physiology after ego-depletion. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 40, 167-178.
Keniger, L. E., Gaston, K. J., Irvine, K. N., & Fuller, R. A. (2013). What are the benefits of interacting with nature?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(3), 913-935.
Gladwell, V. F., Brown, D. K., Wood, C., Sandercock, G. R., & Barton, J. L. (2013).The great outdoors: How a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme Physiology & Medicine, 2(3).
Maller, C., Townsend, M., & Pryor, A. (2005). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘Contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International, 21(1), 45-54.
Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Springer Science + Business 12, 303-322.