Many are the health benefits of nature. Have you ever experienced a sense of well-being staying in contact with nature or just watching some pictures or videos of natural elements? Scientists have found several advantages of nature for our health.
Humans may benefit from nature in different ways. Not only does nature provide with air, food, water, protection and shelter, but also is beneficial for our health and well-being.
Nature is understood in a wide sense: from natural environments like forests, the ocean or mountains to urban green parks. The elements of nature, such as plants, animals, water, soil and air, are also considered.
Impressively, not only does brief and extended contact with nature provide some king of benefits, but also exposure to virtual nature, viewing nature through windows and bringing nature indoors.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF NATURE
Do you have access to nearby natural settings? In case your answer was “yes”, you are in luck: people with access to close nature are healthier and show more satisfaction with their home, job and life in general.
Benefits from nature might be divided into cognitive, psychological, physiological, social and spiritual.
Considering that exposure to natural world does not require a high level of directed attention, it improves directed attention because it reduces mental fatigue provoked by the city environment and demanding cognitive tasks. So, it increases concentration and the ability to perform tasks.
Nature, in addition, might be helpful to improve school grades. A study with university students demonstrated that those with a view of nature during tests scored better. So, when in a exam, stay close to a window!
Have you had a bad day? Do you feel angry, depressed, frightened, frustrated, fatigued, anxious or sad? Nature triggers a reduction of bad feelings. So, clear your head by going for a walk in a natural environment or a urban green park! Moreover, you may fall asleep easier.
Natural spaces have also an effect on behaviour: promotes self-discipline, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-concept, self-perception and reduces aggressive behaviours.
Your body will be improved thanks to contact with nature. Doing exercise is awesome for your physical and mental health, but some studies have found it more beneficial practising sports in nature.
Nature, somehow, may reduce obesity, heart and breathing diseases, as well as long term illnesses such as Parkinson, diabetes or Alzheimer.
When you feel stressed, you can take advantage of the natural world. Studies in the US have found that workers who include views of nature such as trees or flowers in their workplaces report less stress and higher job satisfaction. Another study reported lower levels of stress with increased frequency in visits to urban green spaces. Even, having flowers and plants at home can increase concentration and reduce stress. So, let’s buy some beautiful orchid!
The therapeutic power of nature goes further. Recovery from illness or surgery is faster and requires fewer painkillers with those that have natural scenes in the hospital. More surprising: nature positively impacts blood pressure and cholesterol, triglycerides and cortisol levels.
Besides, plants in a work office or a classroom decreases coughing, headaches, dry skin and fatigue. They also reduce the occurrence and frequency of time off through illnesses.
Urbanization implies some kind of isolation and a lack of social support and cohesion. Several studies suggest benefits in this sense.
Strikingly, in buildings surrounded by higher vegetation density, crime rates and occurrences of violence and aggression are lower. May this explain the reason why houses in greener neighbourhoods are more expensive?
Have you ever wonder about how to feel inspired when you have lost motivation? Among other tips, one is to have contact with nature. Moreover, staying in contact with nature may influence the way people value natural environments.
BENEFITS OF CHILDREN’S CONTACT WITH NATURE
In our current societies, children are losing contact with nature, which was called nature-deficit disorder by Richard Louv. Benefits of connecting children with nature have hold the attention of so many researchers:
- Foster their intellectual, cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual and physical development.
- Supports creativity and problem solving.
- Display decision-making skills.
- Increases their ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities.
- Improves academic performance (social studies, science, language arts and maths).
- Reduces symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Increases physical activity, aware of nutrition, politeness and creativity.
- Increases calmness and reduces disruptive behaviour.
- Reduces myopia.
- Improves social relations, self-control and self-discipline.
- Reduces stress.
- Promotes wellness of future adults.
- Promotes support and concern to conservation initiatives in adulthood.
Despite we have highlighted the benefits in children, other studies have focused on elderly people, residents of detention facilities, migrants, indigenous populations, Acquired Brain Injury individuals and people with disabilities.
WHY DO WE LOVE NATURE?
Health benefits of contact with nature have been well established. The question is: why do we feel an attraction to nature?
Environmental preferences have some innate basis due to the various challenges faced by pre-humans during their evolution. For this reason, is argued that humans retain a disposition to show a positive response to natural elements.
One of the first attempts to explain the human’s environmental preference was the biophilia hypothesis, which proposes the humans’ genetic inclination to affiliate with nature due to human beings have been evolving for millions of years in direct contact with natural environments.
In fact, if the last 2 million years of our species’ history were scaled to a single human lifetime of 70 years, then the first humans would not have begun settling into villages until 4 month before the 69th birthday.
So, adding elements of nature can presumably induce positive changes in our health and well-being. However, this theory has received critical comments.
Another explanation is the savannah theory, which proposes tropical savannahs, particularly those with irregular relief, should have been the optimal environment for early humans for their resource availability and protection from predators. So, in the course of the evolution of human, these biomes should have been selected.
HOW DOES OUR HEALTH BENEFIT FROM NATURE?
The mechanisms by which human’s health benefits from natural environments is still somehow unknown. Nonetheless, there are some theories that attempt to answer that mystery.
Attention restoration theory suggests that natural environments promote feelings of “being away” from routines and thoughts and provide features such as clouds and sunsets that attract attention without requiring mental focus. This leads to mental restoration from attention fatigue.
Such fascination is captured in some quotes, such the following one from the American poet Sylvia Plath: “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, This is what it is to be happy”.
Ecopsychological perspective also tries to understand the relationship between nature and human beings. Human beings are linked to nature because we are simply part of it. Human lifestyle is promoting isolation from nature. Therefore, contact with nature permit to reconnect with natural world and, thus, enhance wellness.
Ulrich gave another possible explanation: the psycho-evolutionary or stress reduction theory. Spatial openness, the presence of pattern or structure and water features provided by nature trigger feelings of interest, pleasantness and calm that allow psychophysiological stress recovery.
Such are the positive health effects of nature on people’s health that European Commission has developed the PHENOTYPE project, the largest European project on green space and health, which will address implications for land-use planning and green space management.
Health benefits of nature for human beings are wide. Our relations to the natural environment have to be respectful in order to maintain all the vital functions that natural spaces provide to the whole living organisms.
- Bowler, DE; Buyung-Ali, LM; Knight, TM & Pullin, AS (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 10:456.
- Brymer, EG; Cuddihy, T & Sharma-Brymer, V (2010). The role of nature-based experiences in the development and maintenance of wellness. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 1 (2): 21-27
- Donovan, G.H; Michael, Y.L; Butry, D.T; Sullivan, A.D & Chase, J.M (2011). Urban trees and the risk of poor birth outcomes. Health & Place. 17(1): 390–393.
- Grindel, B & Grindal Patil, G (2009). Biophilia: Does virtual contact with nature impact on health and well-being? Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 6, 2332-2343, doi: 10.3390/ijerph6092332
- Holbrook, A (2009). The green we need: An investigation of the benefits of green life and green spaces for urban dwellers’s physical, mental and social health. Newcastle: Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, Nursery and Garden Industry Australia and SORTI, The University of Newcastle.
- Kaplan, S (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15: 169-182.
- Kaplan, R & Kaplan, S (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Keniger, LE; Gaston, KJ; Irvine, KN & Fuller, RA (2013). What are the benefits of interacting with nature? Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 10: 913-935; doi: 10.3390/ijerph10030913
- Maller, C; Townsend, M; Pryor, A; Brown, P & St Leger, L (2005). Healthy nature healthy people: “contact with nature as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International. 21(1). doi:10.1093/heapro/dai032
- Natural Learning Initiative (2012). Benefits of connecting children with nature: Why naturalize outdoor learning environments. College of Design, North Carolina State University
- Nieuwenhuijsen, MJ; Kruize, H; Gidlow, C; et al. (2014). Positive health effects of the natural outdoor environment in typical populations in different regions in Europe (PHENOTYPE): a study programme protocol. BMJ Open; 4:e004951. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-004951
- Nilsson, K et al. (eds) (2011). Forests, trees and human health. Springer Science
- Orians, GH (1980). Habitat selection: general theory and applications to human behaviour. In: Lockard JS (ed) The evolution of human social behaviour. Elsevier, New York, pp 49–66
- Townsend, M & Weerasuriya, R (2010). Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well being. Beyond Blue Limited: Melbourne, Australia.