Nature improves our health and well-being
DON CAMERON email@example.com @Saltwirenetwork Don Cameron is a registered professional forester
Having been on a medical time-out recently has provided an opportunity to consider ways to encourage good health. Have you ever noticed a time when you went for a walk surrounded by nature when you were upset, stressed or feeling off at the beginning, but felt much better at the end of the hike? Many of us can probably relate to this phenomenon, but not explain what’s going on. Research reveals that natural environments can increase or reduce our stress, which then impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working. It then allows us to be in better control of aspects of our physical and mental well-being. The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause one to feel anxious, sad, or helpless. This, in turn, elevates one’s blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses the immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that. And regardless of age or culture, humans find nature pleasing. In one study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed. Being within nature - or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists. Research done by public health researchers in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant positive impact on human stress and anxiety. NATURE HAS SOOTHING POWER Nature can help us cope with pain. Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, we are normally absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort. This is demonstrated in a now classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study - Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in hospital. More recent studies have shown similar results with scenes from nature and plants in hospital rooms. NATURE HEALS One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general well-being. In one study in Mind, 95 per cent of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious, to more calm and balanced. Other studies show that time in nature or scenes of nature is associated with a positive mood, psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness, and vitality. Time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature, versus the next thing that pops up on a screen before us. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks. In another interesting area of study, research on children with ADHD shows that time spent in natural settings increases their attention span later. Many teachers and parents reading this are likely nodding their heads in agreement right now. Let’s make nature an important part of our days, and make good, positive use of it for our health and well-being. This is especially important if you can influence children and youth in this regard. Part of that equation is all of us doing what we can to protect nature and do our part to fight climate change.