How Nature Benefits Our Well-Being and Health

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JANUARY, 2023
By Reece Leverzencie

Nature increases our overall well-being in various ways, from a physical to a psychological level. We can enjoy nature’s benefits through activities such as forest bathing, hot spring therapy, and even simple nature walks. Read more about how you can tap into these various benefits and allow nature to work it’s healing power in your life.

How Environments Affect Our Health 

We often hear people say that they are going on vacation to disconnect or to break away from the bustling city life. Most of the time this means that they are going away to be immersed in nature and experience nature’s benefits. This is true for the most part as research has shown that over two-thirds of stressed individuals, choose nature-based retreats and environments to break away to. Thus, environments play a major role in our overall well-being and there is ample evidence that points this out.

Research has found that a person’s environment dictates their stress levels, which in turn affects their body and mind. For example, environments that are deemed unpleasant often induce an increase in an individual’s stress levels which in some cases, may increase the chances of them developing depression and anxiety. What’s worse is that this increase in stress can manifest itself physically, affecting the body, by leading to a suppressed immune system. Environments that are enjoyable, i.e. nature-based environments, have the opposite effect, due to nature’s many benefits.

sunrise africa

The tranquility of nature-based environments is sure to help you unwind.

 

Nature’s Effect On Our Mental and Physical Wellbeing

For many, being surrounded by nature is truly peaceful, and it generally brings about feelings of calmness and happiness. These positive moods and emotions induced by being in nature, benefit our psychological well-being

Aside from reducing our stress levels, being in nature tends to reduce feelings of fear and anger, as its tranquil atmosphere breeds feelings of happiness. This nature benefit has a major positive impact on our psychological and physical states, as these pleasant feelings lead to an increase in our bodies levels of serotonin and dopamine, aka feelings of happiness. This also leads to reduced production of stress hormones in our bodies, a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress-related muscle tension.

Simply just watching scenes of nature or even having an indoor plant has similar health benefits. Studies have shown that viewing nature-based scenes, tends to help people tolerate bodily pain and discomfort. Similarly, forest bathing seems to be the most promising practice in gaining these nature benefits involving health. 

Indoor plants

Bringing nature into your space is as easy as incorporating a few pot plants in your home. 

 

What is ‘Forest Bathing’

When we hear the term “Forest Bathing” we may think that it is simply the practice of bathing in a forest. However, this term was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, and it essentially refers to spending time in nature or being surrounded by nature in order to experience nature’s benefits. The goal of this activity is to fully immerse yourself in nature by utilizing your senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch to experience nature’s health benefits

The Benefits of Practicing Forest Bathing

Practicing forest bathing has proven to reduce one’s “blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones — like cortisol, which your body produces when it’s stressed.” As a result, you become more relaxed and calm. Simply going outside for 10-20 min daily will enable you to experience nature’s benefits, which positively impact your well-being and reduce stress. 

Ever wonder why some of the world’s major cities, such as New York, have large recreational parks? These parks are not merely there for decorative purposes, but rather for people to access to help them maintain a balanced mental state. 

Forest Bathing

Nature walks are a great way to disconnect from the bustle and noise of our modern world. Photographer: Juliette Bisset

 

Cognitive Benefits of Being Outdoors

Feeding into how being in nature benefits your mental and or psychological state, various studies have found that nature has many positive impacts on one’s cognitive abilities. 

1. Increased Cognitive Development in Children

For example, in one study it was found that green spaces or green environments located near the schools and homes of children, helped promote their cognitive development and even their self-control behaviours. I found this to be so intriguing, as we often underestimate how powerful nature’s benefits truly are for our minds.

Reforest Fest

The benefits of nature can be felt by the whole family. Photographer: Nur Hazwani Hamid

 

2. Improves Working Memory and Cognitive Flexibility

In adults, it was found that those living within residential areas with more access to green spaces resulted in better attentional function, as opposed to those with less access to these green spaces. A few other nature benefits include that “being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits.” 

3. Decreases Mental Distress

Research also suggests that being surrounded by nature is most likely to decrease one’s mental distress. Instead, time in nature is shown to increase one’s levels of happiness and well-being, as well as positively effect one’s outlook on life, and social interactions. 

Nature benefits

From mood elevation to decreased stress and improved cognitive flexibility – nature has an abundance of benefits for the mind. Photographer: Juliette Bisset

 

4. Greener Environments Positively Impacts Long-Term Mental Health

One extensive research study found that green spaces in neighbourhoods had a lasting effect on children, as children who had exposure to nature, were shown to have a reduced chance of developing psychiatric disorders later down the line. These disorders included “depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance use disorder.” Children who had lower levels of exposure to these green environments in their neighbourhoods were 55% more likely to develop mental illness and thus not experience nature’s benefits. 

5. Nature Sounds Increases One’s Concentration 

One study found that participants performed better at cognitive tests when they listened to sounds from nature, such as crickets chirping and ocean waves, as opposed to man-made noises involving traffic and busy cafe sounds. This study highlights how much of a positive impact nature’s benefits have on our cognitive abilities. 

These studies reiterate and highlight the health benefits nature has to offer and it all starts by simply just being surrounded by nature or nature-related scenes. Just like a mother comforts her young, nature allows us to feel a sense of peace, comfort, and elevated well-being.

Nature healing

Spending as little as 2 hours in nature per week is all you need to better your wellbeing. Photographer: Juliette Bisset

 

How Many Hours in Nature is Enough?

Reading about all these amazing benefits of forest bathing and being surrounded by nature truly allows us to understand how important it is to spend time outdoors. But how much time is enough to actually experience nature’s benefits? 

Well, according to a study done in the UK, in which around 20,000 adults participated, it was found that adults who spent 2 hours in nature (in the week prior), reported increased health and overall well-being. These results were also consistent across other subgroups, therefore further validating all nature has to offer and nature’s benefits.

So what are you waiting for? Make the most of your free time by being outdoors and experiencing the amazing benefits nature has to offer. Your well-being and health matter! From simply taking in a breath of fresh air in green, outdoor environments, to practicing forest bathing or simply walking barefoot on a patch of grass – nature’s benefits and healing power are certainly not going to disappoint you. 

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well.” What images does this phrase bring up in your head? Greenpop and Wellness Warehouse revamped Reforest Fest’s Food Village with a focus on sustainable, ethical, local, and seasonal produce.

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Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.