This piece on how nature can help improve your health was sent in by Jackie, a former healthcare worker and now a freelancer. Of the piece, and her former role as a healthcare worker who helped treat patients with dementia and other long term mental health issues, she says: “Our approach to treatment was holistic, marrying conventional treatment with therapies that would provide relaxation to patients who often found the world confusing. Nature played a big part in this and we discovered that our service users benefitted from looking at nature, or even simply studying scenes from the natural world.”
How Nature Can Inspire Brain Health
With each day comes new cutting-edge ways to improve overall brain health and happiness. To increase overall productivity in your cognitive functions, you can add simple steps to your daily routine that will help your brain in the long-term. While it’s a well-known fact that training your brain through mind games and memorization is a great way to promote creativity and engagement, researchers have found that observing nature can also do wonders for the brain.
Whenever we have the opportunity to observe, encounter, or interact with nature in the form of landscapes, wildlife, or plants, we reap numerous psychological benefits. Nature grants us a positive outlook on the world, and knowing it exists and surrounds us is important to our mindful well-being. Additionally, spending time in nature has a range of other benefits for the brain and body, including:
- REDUCE DEPRESSION
When we remove ourselves from nature, our innate emotional relationship with other living beings, known as “biophilia,” is hampered. Merely viewing nature scenes is enough to remind us of how expansive and soothing a direct experience with nature is. When we do not have access to natural beauty, we shut down.
This is backed up by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. This study found that residents in urban areas were seventeen percent more likely to suffer from psychological disturbance than their counterparts living in rural areas.
- GIVE YOUR BRAIN A BREAK
In addition to depression, spending your time in a concrete jungle quickly becomes monotonous. We have an innate need for novel experiences that artificial environments fail to give us. In the short term, they can be stimulating and exciting, but in the long run, they do not give us all of the things our brain needs for excitement and novelty.
A 2013 study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that nature can give us a physical and mental sense of being away from the monotonous urban environment. Whether images or the real deal, nature scenes give us visually-rich stimuli that nourish the brain.
- HEAL FASTER
A 2013 article in The Atlantic profiled a small suburban Pennsylvania hospital that had several rooms facing a small courtyard and several others facing a boring old brick wall. Hospital administrators began to notice that patients in rooms that were facing the courtyard were recovering much faster than those viewing the brick wall.
Plenty of studies since this finding have backed up the fact that viewing natural environments, including indoor plants and mounted prints, speeds up the body’s ability to heal after surgery and other procedures.
- BOLSTER YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
You know the old aphorism “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, it may also be worth a thousand vitamins, especially if the picture is a photograph of a beautiful, old-growth forest. In addition to healing faster, natural views improve your body’s ability to ward off colds and viruses.
- RESTORE YOUR FOCUS
Our ability to exert willpower and focus is often taken for granted. However, what allows us to focus when we need to? To function, the parts of your brain that are ultimately responsible for your ability to pay attention rely on a source of energy.
If your brain is in constant use without a break, it runs out of energy. Natural environments help you restore willpower and focus by giving your brain time to recover. This NIH study goes into the process more thoroughly.
- STAVE OFF THE EFFECTS OF DEMENTIA
A 2011 article in the BBC looked at the effects of “nature-deficit disorder,” a term created by Richard Louv to describe the negative effects of being away from nature. Organizations like the Woodland Trust located in Lincolnshire in the UK organize trips to the countryside to help older adults with dementia because the vibrant appearance of green spaces provides a number of benefits.
- IMPROVE YOUR MOOD
Active workouts in a gym cannot even begin to come close to the many ways that being around nature can make you feel better. Science Daily summarized these findings from a 2011 study by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry that compared exercise in natural environments versus workouts in manmade facilities.
Researchers found that being around nature was associated with
- Increased energy
- Positive engagement and greater feelings of revitalization
- Decreases in anger, tension, and depression
All of which contribute to an improved overall mood. And, natural images are likely to bolster our motivation to stick to an exercise regimen.
- NATURE MAKES IT EASIER FOR YOU TO RELAX
If we let stress build up, our fast-paced lifestyles can really take a toll. As a matter of fact, we may not even notice how stressed out we are in our daily lives. We can enter a state of relaxation by focusing our minds on green spaces. You are sure to relax when you go for a walk through a park, in the hills, or along the river, whether the walk is physical or mental.
Some surefire ways to destress include looking at breathtaking nature scenes on your computer’s screensaver, gazing at the flowers on your dining room table, or commissioning a business to provide you with wall art of one of your favorite nature photos for display anywhere in your home or office.
- REDUCE YOUR PERCEPTION OF PAIN
Distract your mind from discomfort and pain by focusing on nature. Research shows this is an effective strategy. In a study looking at gall bladder surgery patients, those patients who had a view of a wall did not fare nearly as well as those who had a view of green spaces.
Furthermore, the study found that the patients with views of trees had fewer negative interactions, were able to leave the hospital earlier, and had a greater tolerance for pain. These results have been replicated many times in studies exploring the effects of plants and nature scenes in hospital rooms.
- LOWER YOUR STRESS LEVELS
We have already touched on how viewing nature scenes help you relax, which is basically the same as lowering your stress. But, there is so much evidence that we needed to create another spot on our list. A study published in the journal Public Health reported that people who walked in forested areas experienced less production of cortisol, the stress hormone, than those participants who walked in suburban areas.
In fact, the stress-reducing benefits of nature images are so pronounced that the Japanese have coined the term Shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere. Shinrin-yoku has been shown to have positive physiological gains. The NIH published a 2010 study cataloging the effects.
- EXPERIENCE MORE HAPPINESS
Do we really appreciate how much spending time in the natural elements can improve our mood? Most of us underestimate what nature can do to improve our state of mind. Compared to activities we perform indoors, we seem to feel happier when we take part in the same activities outside. For instance, walking on a treadmill in a stinky gym is nowhere near as satisfying as walking in a park.
If you cannot get into nature as much as you would like, you can simply remind your brain of the healing powers of the countryside by surrounding yourself with photographs and images of outdoors scenes.
- BOOST YOUR SOCIAL WELLBEING
Social wellness is another benefit of enjoying nature. Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study tracking the social health of residents in public housing that did not have trees versus those tenants who lived in buildings surrounded by trees and green spaces.
The results showed that residents living around trees felt a greater sense of belonging, were more engaged in neighborly acts, and knew more people. They also enjoyed less domestic violence and a lower risk of crime.
- INCREASE YOUR LIFESPAN
Do you want to live longer? Of course, you do. Who doesn’t want to increase their lifespan? But, did you know that you can live longer by simply having more greenery around you? In the May 2008 International Journal of Health Geographics, a study showed that nature images provided significant protection from having a stroke. On the other hand, there were higher risks of stroke mortality in areas with fewer trees.
By now, it should be clear to you that getting out in nature is a must for your overall wellbeing. Yet, it isn’t always easy to just get away from it all. If this is the case for you, consider surrounding yourself with plants and images of nature scenes, such as nature wall art from Fotoviva. Be well.
You may view Jackie’s original post (including beautiful images of nature) at Fotoviva.