The idea that spending time in nature can make you feel better seems intuitive. People suffering from stress, sickness or trauma often spend quiet time in the mountains or the woods to heal. But nature is not just the remote wilderness, and it’s not just for extreme times. The benefits of nature are universally favorable and can be accessed at community parks, local farms and green spaces.
Researchers are amassing a body of evidence that supports the belief that nature can provide short-term and long-term mental and physical health benefits. Both correlational and experimental research have shown that interacting with nature has cognitive benefits—a topic University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, PhD, and his student Kathryn Schertz explored in a 2019 review. They reported that green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children and green views near children’s homes promote self-control behaviors. Adults in public housing units in neighborhoods with more green space showed better attentional functioning than those in units with less access to natural environments. Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits (Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019).
“Forest bathing” is trending as an approach to a relaxing saunter in the woods. Shinrin-yoku is the name given to the Japanese art of forest bathing – which often involves meditative walks through the woods with the objective of reconnecting with nature, decreasing stress, elevating natural moods and strengthening the immune system. Forest bathing is rooted in Shinto and Buddhist practices that promote experiencing nature through all five senses.
Biophilic Design is going mainstream with interior decorators and homeowners. Biophilia is the human tendency to interact with or to be closely associated with other forms of life in nature. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. In design, it’s a way to bring natural elements indoors and it’s an approach that fosters beneficial contact between people and nature. That can mean more natural light, natural shapes, earth tones, living walls and adding natural elements like house plants.
Bringing nature into your home or office is great, but why not meet nature where it naturally lives – OUTSIDE?
Spending time in nature can act as a balm for our busy brains:
- People living near parks and green space have less mental distress, are more physically active and have extended life spans.
- Exposure to nature may impact human mortality from chronic disease.
- John Zelenski, PhD, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues found that elementary school children acted more prosocially to classmates and strangers after a field trip to a nature school than they did after a visit to an aviation museum (Dopko, R.L., et al., Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol. 63, No. 1, 2019).
- One of the primary symptoms of depression is rumination, or repetitive thoughts focused on negative features of the self (Bratman and others 2015). Participants who took a 90-minute nature walk reported having less rumination and exhibited decreased neural activity in a part of the brain linked with sadness and self-reflection. These findings led the researchers to recommend investment in access to natural environments in order to improve the “mental capital” of cities and nations (Bratman and others 2015).
Trees have the unique ability to provide micro-cooling through evapotranspiration, and relief from heat stress through shade. A study of air temperature across the city of Baltimore, MD, looked at air temperature differences in relation to parks and other green space (Heisler and others 2007). When researchers compared temperature points, they found that the center of the city was consistently the warmest, while parks were generally cooler than surrounding areas. Patapsco Valley State Park, which is heavily forested, was the “coolest” of the Baltimore parks, 13 °F cooler in the evening and about 5 °F cooler in daytime relative to the warm inner city.
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well-being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to 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.”
While sugary snacks, sodas, fast food and all-you-can-eat buffets are often blamed for the obesity epidemic in the United States, another culprit is the decline in the level of physical activity. Research confirms that the availability of parks, trails and nature can positively affect attitudes toward being active and encourages physical activity (Wolf 2008b), and shows that when people exercise in natural environments, they do so longer and at greater intensities (Kerr and others 2012).
Humans depend on nature for food, water, security, health and well-being—we are connected with the natural world for our very survival. The evidence of the link between nature, happiness, health and preventive medicine are good reminders to get outside!
Our 160-acre regenerative farmland is open all-year and has seasonal opportunities to connect with nature, naturally.