Incorporating nature or “greenspace” into your daily routine can improve your overall quality of life. Greenspace is a catch-all term to describe natural or maintained environmental areas such as gardens, urban parks, nature preserves, or other wilderness environments. Experiencing nature can be as simple as hiking at a local park or forest, strolling through the gardens at our Extension center, or even just walking a tree-lined path in your neighborhood.
It should come as no surprise that our bodies react positively to natural settings. Over the course of evolution, our species has spent 99.9% of time living in the natural environment and less than 0.01% in modern surroundings. “The gap between natural settings, for which our physiological functions are adapted, and the highly urbanized and artificial settings that we inhabit is a contributing cause of the ‘stress state’ in modern people “(Song, Ikei, and Miyazaki).
The physiological and psychological effects of nature therapy is supported by growing scientific evidence. Studies have measured the healing effects of nature to include mood enhancement, reduced ADHD symptoms, healthier birth weight in babies, reduced stress and anxiety, improved mental health for seniors, and faster healing in hospitals, to name a few. There is plenty of evidence to support the positive relationship between mental health and well-being and levels of greenspace in neighborhoods. “Individuals have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression, greater well-being and healthier cortisol profiles when living in urban areas with more greenspace compared with less greenspace. Large differences in disease prevalence are reported when comparing residents of very green and less green settings, even after controlling for socioeconomic status” (Maas et al, 2009). Physical activity partially contributes to the positive correlation between mental health and well-being and neighborhood greenspace. “People who use the natural environment for physical activity at least once a week have about half the risk of poor mental health compared with those who do not do so; and each extra weekly use of the natural environment for physical activity reduces the risk of poor mental health by a further 6%” (Mitchell, 2013). Blue spaces such as oceans, rivers, and lakes impart similar effects.
Research about the economic benefits of nature’s contribution to health and wellness is fairly new, although preliminary valuations can be found in this publication on the health and financial benefits of nearby nature: https://www.naturewithin.info/New/2016.11.Economic_Benefits_of_Nature_in_Cities.KWolf.pdf.
While time in nature doesn’t cure all ills, it can support opportunities for better physical and mental health while providing respite from life’s stressors. Anyone who regularly spends time in nature does not need scientific evidence to be convinced of the benefits, although it can inspire motivation to have one’s experience validated by science. If you haven’t been getting your regular dose of vitamin ‘N’ these days, I hope this article has inspired you to go outside and enjoy the gifts of health and wellness nature has to offer. Perhaps you can use some of the information presented to convince friends and family members to join you on your next outdoor excursion. Our gardens are open to the public to walk around, observe, relax and rejuvenate in daily from dawn to dusk. I hope to see you out there!
Chorong Song, Harumi Ikei, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki. Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997467/
Jo Barton and Mike Rogerson. The Importance of Greenspace for Mental Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663018/
Kathleen Wolf, PH.D. Nature’s Riches: The Health and Financial Benefits of Nearby Nature: https://www.naturewithin.info/New/2016.11.Economic_Benefits_of_Nature_in_Cities.KWolf.pdf