It may be no surprise that National Institute of Health (NIH) studies have shown that long-term stress is one of the factors contributing to chronic illnesses. However, NIH studies also revealed that persons who have views of greenery and access to greenspace, have a greater sense of well-being and connection to their neighborhood.
Reports published by environmental psychologists show the positive effect green spaces have on reducing stress levels and enhancing mindfulness. This is supported by the concepts of attention fatigue and Attention Restoration Theory (ART). ART posits that exposure to natural surroundings and nature has a restorative effect, improving cognitive function, relieving mental fatigue, contributing to higher productivity and increased creativity.
Although the jury is still out on exactly how many shades of the color green exist, there is reliable documentation that it is easier for the human eye to detect more shades of green than any other color. But green’s effect on us goes beyond just the color. Participants in studies on the effect of nature experiences as sensory stimuli, showed a positive impact on immune response, increased brain activity, lower frustration levels, increased positive emotions and an improvement in mood and self esteem. These studies also showed that there was a restorative effect of greenery with an increase in the amount of time spent interacting with nature, and that leisure activities in green spaces have greater restorative effects than those in built environments.
Some healthcare studies have considered the effect of prescribing ‘doses’ of green space interaction to improve mental health. These considerations are based on NIH and World Health Organization (WHO) studies which promote the benefits of greenery on psychological and physical wellbeing. When I need a good dose of green, some of my favorite green spaces include: Celery Fields’ Audubon birding opportunities and rare birds-eye view of Sarasota; Shamrock Park’s butterfly garden and gopher tortoises; Urfer Family Park’s boardwalk and trail in close proximity to the scrub cattle environment, reminiscent of ‘A Land Remembered’ (Patrick D. Smith’s historical novel about early Florida pioneers); Twin Lakes Park’s serene lake-front walking trails; Deer Prairie Creek Preserve’s off-the-beaten-part ambience; Nathan Benderson Park’s awe-inspiring rowing lake; Oscar Scherer State Park’s picturesque lake-front picnic spots; Manasota Scrub Preserve’s ‘life-on-pause’ allure; and the Ringling Bayfront Gardens’ time-capsule magic and breathtaking bay-views.
Medical professionals are among the group of essential workers thrust into the spotlight whenever communities face public health crises, but the keepers of our greenspaces and the growers of our plant pets, also play an important role in our overall health by offering greenery as sources of mental health reprieve. And while most routine medical checkups require you to say “ahh”, why not set yourself a reminder to take regular nature-breaks: a walk through the landscape, a sip of hydration as you gaze through the window at the greenery outside, or a stroll through your neighborhood or a park; and as you do, take a deep breath and exhale with an “aaahhh…!”