We have never needed nature and daily contact with it so much. Today, when we spend most of our time in homes, offices or cars, I realize it even more. I have been living in the mountains for several years and I know that in some way it is easier for me, although none of us pass by the difficulties. I have a terrace, a backyard and the possibility of walking for hours on the surrounding trails. Why am I writing about this?
I grew up in the countryside and whether I wanted it or not, I spent most of my time outside. Work, relaxation, walks, everything took place in the backyard, in the woods or in the fields. You came home to eat, rest and go to sleep. During the third year of my studies, I moved to Warsaw, it was supposed to be more comfortable and quiet. And it was, in fact, close to everything, without cumbersome commuting, with more possibilities. I liked this life and I didn’t even notice when I started to spend more and more time indoors. Office buildings, cafes, gym, metro instead of walking in the woods or by the river. Everything was so new and fascinating. After many years of such a life, tired with work, haste and everyday noise, I was running away more and more often to the forest or to the mountains. I found peace there. In the end, I realized that to stay healthy and balanced, we cannot do otherwise. We need to stay in touch with nature.
The more human life is immersed in a technology-laden urban-industrial culture, the more contact with nature is needed to achieve balance and maintain health
– Richard Louv
Our way of life and work means that we spend most of our time in vehicles and rooms. This is favored by the rush and the lack of access to green areas, especially in large cities. In the daily race we do not pay attention to nature and for some reason we decided that we did not need it. It becomes more and more alien and threatening to us. We cut forests, concrete paths, walk on a treadmill, and limit contact with nature to “forced” exit from the house. What was once normal for us becomes threatening. We are afraid to go to the forest (because of ticks), go camping (because it is dangerous) or walk barefoot on the grass (because the roar knows what is in the grass). And yet we are part of nature, we cannot just break away from it. Edward O. Wilson, an American biologist, zoologist and sociobiologist, emphasizes that we have “an innate, encoded attraction in our genes for nature, of which we are a part.” In his theory, a person’s sense of identity, health and well-being depend on his relationship with the natural environment.
Cavemen of the 21st century
Our nervous system in the course of evolution was formed in the vicinity of nature and in direct contact with it. Despite its great flexibility and thousands of years of evolution, it is still not adapted to operate 24 hours a day, in artificial lighting, in concrete, in noise, attacked by thousands of stimuli. Perhaps he will adapt someday, but for the moment, organically we are still “cavemen”. We need nature, sunlight, day and night rhythms. “The more human life is immersed in a technology-laden urban-industrial culture, the more contact with nature is needed to achieve balance and stay healthy,” writes Richard Louv, author of The Last Child of the Forest. And it’s hard to disagree with him.
We have moved away from nature and we are getting further and further with each passing year. The effects of this can be seen all over the world: we feel more and more stress, we become impulsive and impetuous, we become less creative, we have difficulties with concentration or memory, we suffer more and more often from various emotional and physical difficulties. Observations show that “city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders than those living in rural areas” (edited by Stanford News). In many countries around the world, doctors more and more often prescribe “green prescriptions” as a treatment adjunct to standard methods. They include walks in the forest, watching the sky, watching birds, listening to the sound of water, hugging trees or touching moss. Some of them take their patients for walks on a nearby beach or forest during the session. And all of them see huge positive changes in their behavior and well-being. And probably a few years ago I would have tapped my forehead and said that it was such an “elven”. Today, however, science, the experience of thousands of people and my own – leave no doubt. We have increasing vitamin N deficiencies, and this affects all aspects of our functioning.
Mental Health Benefits:
As shown by numerous studies, spending time in nature has a positive effect on us in many areas, including:
- improves mental well-being and increases life satisfaction
Research shows that people living in the city surrounded by forests, parks, squares and gardens enjoy better mental health and are more satisfied with life than people living in “concrete” neighborhoods (Exeter Medical School, UK). Similar conclusions were reached by the respondents from the University of Michigan (USA), who proved that a 50-minute walk in the park significantly improves the well-being of people suffering from depression. Another study of schoolchildren and students showed that just 10-15 minutes in a natural setting can improve their mood, focus, and reduce the effects of physical and mental stress.
- increases the sense of well-being and the level of vital energy
Professor Richard Ryan and his team observed that well-being and the level of perceived vitality increased significantly each time the subjects were in a natural environment (walking along the river bank) or “just” imagining such a situation. As many as 90% of respondents noticed that being active in nature helped them get rid of the fatigue accumulated during the day.
- relaxes and unwinds
A study of runners has shown that people who run in greenery feel more relaxed, less restless, nervous and depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories in the gym. A similar observation was made by the psychologist Jenny Roe working in Edinburgh, examining the brain activity of people walking in the forest, along the main street and the district of the city. She noticed that contact with the green calmed down and restored the ability to concentrate. A walk among glass and concrete stimulated the psyche. This phenomenon may be explained by another study conducted at the University of East Anglia, which found that contact with green areas significantly reduces the level of cortisol in saliva (cortisol is a stress hormone produced during a stress response). A similar thing was observed by Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University. His research has shown that it is enough to “only” look at the green for 20 minutes for our salivary cortisol level to drop by about 13.4%.
- reduces the tendency to recurrent distressing thoughts and doubts
A US study showed that people who spend more time in nature are less prone to recurring depressing thoughts and doubts (rumination). Previous studies on this topic indicated that people living in urban areas are more prone to rumination, but it is enough to regularly spend time in the bosom of nature to improve their well-being.
- improves social relations
A study from the University of Illinois found that “people who lived in green spaces knew more people in their community, had stronger ties with their neighbors, were more interested in helping each other, and had a stronger sense of belonging.”
Physical health benefits:
- reduces the risk of death, especially from cardiovascular causes
In 2003, researchers in New Zealand showed that outdoor exercise (2.5 hours a week for 12 months) reduces the risk of death by 20-30%. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, smoking or loneliness, living in greenery is associated with less stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and thus with a reduced level of perceived stress. Which translates into a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also turns out that the concentration of adrenaline in the blood and urine of people who live close to nature is lower. It is most visible when green areas are not more than 250 m from the house, although the beneficial effect was also observed even if it was a kilometer (Envirome Institute University of Louisville, USA).
- reduces the risk of cancer
Walking in the forest increases the level of NK (natural killer) lymphocytes, considered to be one of the first lines of defense against cancer (“Journal of Cardiology”, 2010) ISGlobal in Spain conducted a study that showed a reduced risk of developing breast cancer in women living closer to urban green zones. Researchers found a linear relationship – the risk decreased as the distance from the area with nature decreased. However, it turned out that women living close to agricultural areas were at a higher risk of the disease. In this case, however, scientists suspect the harmful effects of agents used in agriculture, such as pesticides.
- lowers blood pressure, increases immunity, regulates the heart rate, lowers the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and the risk of premature birth
Walks in the woods help in the fight against hypertension (2013) inhibit the hormonal axis responsible for the increase in blood pressure. They also strengthen the immune system, regulate the heart rate, blood pressure, have a positive effect on the nervous system, causing a feeling of deep peace, which is related to the reduction of the stress hormone level.
- may have an analgesic effect
Researchers from the University of Michigan (USA) noticed that patients who underwent bronchoscopy (examination of the respiratory system) in rooms where pictures of nature were hung on the walls, and nature sounds were played from the slab, showed less pain symptoms compared to patients tested in traditional hospital rooms. Moreover, people after ischemic stroke staying in close proximity to green areas have a greater chance of survival than those who can see concrete outside the window.
Back to nature
Scientists have no doubts that being close to nature has a huge impact on our well-being and health. Looking at the water, also at the city fountains, touching trees, inhaling the scent of rain, listening to the singing of birds has a therapeutic power. To function in health and balance, we need daily contact with nature. Research shows that even a short but systematic stay in nature improves the mood and cognitive functions of our brain. So what to do?
- Spend as much time as possible close to nature every day
Enjoy the beautiful weather, walk, cycle to work. Find the best way for you to spend at least 30 minutes a day in a park, forest or in the surrounding field.
- Spend time on the patio, backyard or balcony
If daily walks are out of the question. Spend time in the yard, balcony, terrace. Enjoy the summer sun rays, watch nature come to life. Sounds cheesy? Think about all the health benefits of being in contact with nature and go outdoors or in the fields 🙂 You are at work? Take another coffee break on the terrace, balcony or with the window open. Enjoy the sun, especially in the morning, it has many beneficial properties: it improves immunity, releases endorphins and helps us sleep better.
- Look out the window, observe the greenery and the surrounding nature
From the research carried out in the early 1980s by prof. Roger S. Ulrich shows that patients in the surgery ward in rooms with windows behind which there are trees, heal faster than those who have a view of the building. You don’t have a balloon? You definitely have windows in your apartment. Summer is here, it’s super warm, and there’s a ton of green outside. Open the window as often as possible, watch what is going on outside, look at the trees, listen to the birds singing. Do you live in a block of flats? You must see a tree, a lawn, anything that is part of nature. That’s enough for the moment!
- Surround yourself with flowers – those on the balcony and those at home.
You can’t go out, bring nature home. Personally, I don’t like when flowers are cut or picked, I think it’s best for them to live and grow. But I love potted flowers, the more leafy and green the better. Green color soothes our nervous system. In autumn and winter, the sight of green flowers improves our mood and gives us a sense of contact with “living nature”. An interesting study on this topic was carried out by Seong-Hyun Park and Richard H. Mattson. Patients after appendicitis surgery took part in the study. After the treatment, the first group was brought to the room with potted plants, the second group was recovering in a traditional room. The observations showed that the patients in the “green rooms” had lower blood pressure and heart rate, felt less pain and were more positive about life. Interestingly, during the convalescence, they took care of their flowers, and during their discharge from the hospital, they emphasized how important plants were to them. People living in traditional rooms considered the possibility of watching TV as the greatest advantage of the hospital. So maybe it’s a good time to take care of our home flowers? Plant herbs in boxes on the balcony. Do something with your hands, not think about what will happen.
- Hang posters and pictures of nature on the walls and visualize it
Once my sisters had a giant mural on the wall depicting a forest and deer grazing in it. Today it would be worth its weight in gold. After all, just looking at nature improves our mood and soothes our nerves. Numerous studies show that just thinking about nature improves our well-being. Imagine moving your thoughts to a place you really like. It may be your favorite forest, peak or beach. Be there with your thoughts.
You can read more about visualization here: what is a visualization?
And you may not believe in the research, probably some of them are burdened with some research error. However, you don’t have to search much, just open up to nature and its soothing effects. I think that each of us will notice a difference in our well-being after a few days. Let this be the best proof that we need peace, quiet and nature that we are a part of.