With the growing urbanisation and the increase in physical and mental illness, the necessity for us to be guided by research on how wellbeing is enhanced by nature is imperative.
We know exercising is great for our body and mind but research has shown that when our movement is coupled with nature the benefits are even more significant. A study by Bratman and colleagues (2015) at Stanford university compared the difference in mental health between one group of individuals who walked 5km within a city with those who walked 5km in the mountains. Those who walked in the mountains had reduced worry, rumination and negative feelings. Interestingly they also showed greater cognitive functioning. Bratman and his team (2015) also reviewed MRIs of people following a 90-minute walk in the forest and found less neural activity in the parts of the brain linked with anxiety and worry. Indicating that the brain works differently when in a nature setting.
Whether it is nature sounds or images (Ulrich and colleagues 1991) or the ability to access a green space (Sakuarai, and colleagues, 2017;Beyer and colleagues, 2014), just the experience of nature has been linked to mental health benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety, depression and increased long-term vitality.
Not only is being in nature great for our mental wellbeing but our physical health also. Research has shown enhancement in immune system, reductions in blood pressure and allergies; and reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease. (Mitchell and Popham, 2008; Kardan et al., 2015)
Plus, spending time in nature encouraged more physical activity and also created more social cohesion and reports that people were happier within themselves (Shanahan and colleagues 2016).
With so much research being conducted in this area now and the research showing the link between nature and great wellbeing benefits, as health practitioners, we need to ask ourselves two questions. Firstly, how much time am I spending in nature for my own wellbeing and to prevent burnout? and secondly, how often am I prescribing green space connection to my clients as part of their therapy or treatment protocol?
So if you are now considering prescribing green space to yourself and others (Shanahan et al, 2016) there is a dose specific effect. Thirty minutes once a week can drastically decrease depression and blood pressure for many of the people suffering in our community.
As you read these research findings there is probably a place within your own experience in which this resonates. Knowing times in your past where nature has been healing and restorative. In the words of John Muir the naturalist, “ Keep close to nature’s heart….and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”
Register for one of our retreats, and experience the healing power of nature.