Most of us intuitive understand that being in nature is good for us. On Friday May 22 Helen Hall joined Manda Aufochs Gillespie on Folk University’s Friday Folk U Talk Show on CKTZ 89.5 FM to explain just how true this is according to the research. 

Folk U Frida: Manda AUfochs Gillespie interview Helen Hall From FOCI

Being In Nature Is Good For US

“Most of us sense that being in nature is good for us, says Helen, taking a break from the rush of our daily lives, enjoying the beauty and peace of being in a natural setting. Now, research is showing that being in nature has real, quantifiable health benefits both mental and physical. Even 5 minutes around trees or in a natural space may improve health she says. Think of it as a prescription with no negative side affects and it’s also free. Exposure to forests, trees and nature can:

  • Boosts the immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Increases the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increases energy level
  • Improves sleep

A peek into Helen’s Notebook: How do we know Nature is Good for us?

WHAT IS Biophilia and BIOPHILIC DESIGN?

Biophilia (meaning love of nature) focuses on human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural world built up through hundreds of thousands of years of living in agrarian settings.

It is a term popularized by American biologist Edward O Wilson in the 1980’s, when he observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnection with the natural world. With high rates of migration to urban settings in the developed world and soaring rates in developing countries – Biophilia is of ever increasing importance to our health and well-being in the built environment.

Around Trees

Spending time around trees and look at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood

Numerous of the studies Helen found show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.  Researchers have found that being in a forest significantly decreases people’s level of anxiety, depression and fatigue.  And because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress reduction benefits of forests are further magnified.

While the impact of experiencing nature on our physical health is less well documented, a wealth of studies have demonstrated the positive effects of the natural world on our mental health.

Even a brief nature fix – 10 minutes of wind brushing across our cheek, or the sun on our skin – can lower stress, explains Dr Mathew White, from the University of Exeter.

If we immerse ourselves in beautiful landscapes, like a rich coastline or a wild forest teeming with an array of species, we feel more intense emotions, he adds.

Connecting with nature can help us feel happier and more energised, with an increased sense of meaning and purpose, as well as making tasks seem more manageable.

Recovering From Mental Fatigue

Spending time in nature helps you focus and recover from mental fatigue  (soft fascination and attention restoration theory) 

  • Our lives are busy with jobs, family life, school and so on.  Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue.  Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and escape from a place of mental fatigue.
  • Basically, part of nature’s power lies in its ability to wash away whatever is provoking a lot of our stress.
  • Slow movements such as the ripples of water or clouds moving across the sky place effortless demands on our working memory but enough to distract us from spiralling rumination, self-blame and hopelessness.  Researchers call this capacity to hold our attention the “soft fascination” of nature.
  • Entering this state of effortless attention can occur in a variety of ways—walking in the woods, hiking along a trail in a totally natural environment, or sitting by a stream watching water tumble over rocks. It seems that the experience of being in nature is transformative in and of itself—it can cause a person’s emotional state to be uplifted and mental balance to be restored. Being in nature is truly refreshing in a very deep, meaningful way.
  • The soft fascination of nature, according to the Kaplans, is a mental state produced by full engagement in the pleasurable context of nature. When you enter a green space of natural light and shadows containing the colors of nature, you can also enter a particularly reflective mode at the same time in which you are able to comprehend more than one thing at a time, a state in which stresses and pressures are reduced. You are able to enjoy multiple stimuli and perceptions even while thinking about other things. All in all, being in nature produces a fully restorative experience.
  • Attention restoration theory claims that looking at natural landscapes, such as beaches, forest or mountain landscapes will allow for your mind to sit in the default mode network, to wander freely and thereby relaxing the stringent focus of everyday life.[11] The mind-wandering provided in the default mode network will allow for the mind to restore its directed attention capacities.

Patients Recover Faster

Patients recover from surgery faster and better when they have a green’ view

Hospital patients may be stressed from a variety of factors including pain, fear and disruption of normal routine.  Research found that patients with ‘green views’ had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer painkillers and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.  (check study)

Forest Bathing

Helen gave us a little preview of next week’s Nature its Good For You, which is on Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing.Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing” — a poetic name for walking in the woods. They suspect aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of Natural Killer or NK cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and infections. A subsequent study, in which essential oils from cedars were emitted in a hotel room where people slept, also caused a significant spike in NK cells.

Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder – Vitamin N

Most of us intuitively know that we feel better when we spend time outside.

But sadly, as our lives become more dependent on technology, we are increasingly disconnected from the Earth — and this disconnect could be harming our children more than we think.

Acknowledging the adverse effects on children’s well being, author Richard Louv coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” His research has led pediatricians like myself to prescribe time in nature as a way to combat the health ills associated with lack of free outdoor play.  

Should Be Listed As Essential Vitamins

Vitamin N’ (the health benefits of time spent in nature) should find its place in the list of Essential Vitamins!

Looking for encouragement to get your kids off the couch this summer? Here are seven research-based reasons to venture into the Great Outdoors:

  • 1. It encourages exercise. The closer kids are to green spaces, the more likely they are to run around outside: a recent Canadian study found that the physical activity of 11 to 13 year olds rose relative to the amount of tree-filled space in their neighborhoods. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you’re a city dweller — simply make time for play in a shaded public park.
  • 2. It reduces anxiety. Children in Maryland and Colorado who played in green schoolyards reported less stress compared to their peers. They also showed an increased sense of competence, as well as ability to form supportive social groups.
  • 3. It improves focus. One study of kids in Illinois found that even just a twenty-minute walk in the park led to a substantial attention boost.
  • As the researchers note: “‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool in the tool kit for managing ADHD symptoms.”
  • 4. It makes kids smarter. Researchers found that Barcelona school children with more exposure to outdoor greenery performed better on cognitive testing. The effect was greatest when both home and school environments provided “green” time.
  • 5. It builds a sense of community. Canadian adolescents living in greener environments reported a stronger sense of “place,” or belonging to a healthy community. This finding has important ramifications, as these emotions might also increase kids’ engagement and involvement in keeping their neighborhoods safe and healthy.

The Smell of Nature

The scent of the earth – petrichor – after it has rained is worth seeking – it has been found to activate brain waves associated with calmness and relaxation

Nature Deficit Disorder 

Quotes published in 2011 by Richard Louv, author of international best seller, “Last child in the Woods”

New research supports the contention that nature therapy helps control pain and negative stress; and for people with heart disease, dementia, and other health issues, the nature prescription has benefits that may go beyond the predictable results of outdoor exercise. (Louv, p47)

Several reports, including a thorough literature review by researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, chart what is known. According to the Deakin review, each of the following health benefits, among others, is supported by anecdotal, theoretical and empirical research:

  • Exposure to natural environments, such as parks, enhances the ability to cope with and recover from stress and recover from illness and injury.
  • Established methods of nature-based therapy (including wilderness, horticultural, and animal-assisted therapy) have success healing patients who previously had not responded to treatment of some emotional or physical ailments
  • People have a more positive outlook on life and higher life satisfaction when in proximity to nature, particularly in urban areas. (Louv, p.49)

How much nature is enough to make a difference in mental health? 

One study suggests that the benefits are felt almost immediately. Recent results published by Jules Pretty and Jo Barton of the University of Essex in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology suggest a proper minimum dosage of vitamin N. “For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health,” Pretty wrote. Mood and self esteem improved after a five-minute dose. Blue-green exercise is even better; the study found that a walk in a natural area adjacent to water offered people the most improvement. Which is not to say five minutes a day is all we need of nature. The analysis of 1,252 people of different ages, gender, and mental health status was drawn from ten existing studies in the UK, and it found that people of all ages and social background benefitted, but the greatest health changes occurred in the mentally ill. “Exposure to nature via green exercise can thus be conceived of as a readily available therapy with no obvious side effects.”  (Louv, P.60)

A Brief Look at Psychoevolutionary Theory

The Psychoevolutionary Theory is built on the proposition that our personality, actions, and thoughts are shaped genetically by natural selection. Roger Ulrich, the face of this theory said that humans have a deep-rooted affinity towards nature, which is due to the thousands of years that early humans had spent living amid the wild landscapes. According to Ulrich (2008), it is due to this fact that staying close to nature brings a feeling of positivity and happiness in us.

Furthermore, the PET (Psychoevolutionary Theory) asserted that staying in a human-made environment invites disorders like stress, depression, obesity, and cardiac diseases, and is a challenge to our overall well-being (Ulrich and Simons, 1986).

Spending long hours indoors is likely to bring negative thoughts and fatigue. Through extensive research and survey, scientists have proved that when we feel low and less energetic, an encounter with the natural elements can instantly make us feel better (Zuckerman, 1977).

The psychoevolutionary model of Ulrich (1983) suggested that:

  • Staying close to nature is a genetically influenced preference of humans.
  • Spending more time outdoors has a replenishing effect on emotions, memory, and cognition.
  • Restraining oneself in enclosed artificial physical settings can evoke anger, despair, and depression – together affecting our wellbeing.
  • Nature has an in-built restoration component that helps in stress reduction and emotional regulation.