Nature & health. What's the connection?

Why should we immerse ourselves in nature?

As humans become more urbanised, we become less connected with nature.  We’re spending more time indoors than ever.  Experts say that people in industrialised countries spend a whopping 90% of their time indoors!  Being cooped up in indoor home and work environments can’t be good for us, can it?  The answer is a resounding no.  For a start, we know that indoor air is far from fresh – in fact, pollutant exposure indoors is up to 100 times higher than outdoors.

Our less frequent interaction with the natural world, coupled with toxic indoor air quality and our increasing access to technology could definitely be doing us harm.  It’s been called “nature-deficit disorder” in some circles and it’s linked to poor physical and mental health.  If you’re suffering that, then getting closer to nature again can improve your ability to relax and reduce your stress levels.  It can also give you a more positive outlook and sense of wholeness.  As you’re about to find out, nature can also do a whole lot more.

Rainforest www.thehappyhabitat.com.au

Nature makes you brainier

A number of studies have shown improved cognitive performance as a result of interacting with nature.  In this study, participants spent 4 days immersed in nature, totally disconnected from technology.  The results were astounding – a 50% gain in creativity and problem-solving!  Researchers attributed the cognitive improvement to two things.  Firstly, the emotionally positive natural surroundings.  And secondly, the removal of attention-demanding technology that regularly interrupts our actions and cognitions.

Both walking in nature or even just viewing pictures of nature have been shown to improve directed-attention abilities in humans.  Studies around cognitive ability and function have also proven that time spent in nature can reduce mental fatigue, restore attention, improve academic performance and improve productivity.

Nature improves mental health

How about improving your psychological wellbeing?  Scientists have shown that there are a multitude of ways that spending time in the great outdoors can help you beat the blues. From improving self-esteem and mood, as well as reducing stress and anxiety.

For example, group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and wellbeing.

Research about workplaces shows that those employees with access to nature or views of nature have reported that their jobs were less stressful and they have higher job satisfaction, as well as less illnesses.

Freedom www.thehappyhabitat.com.au

Nature makes you a nicer person

Apparently so!  Not only will getting outdoors in a natural environment make you feel better but it also helps reduce feelings of anger and frustration and improves behaviour.  As a further bonus, nature has positive social effects such as reduced violence and crime rates, and improved social cohesion.

Nature makes your body healthier

In terms of physical health benefits, bonding with nature can do all sorts of wonderful things.  In this study, a forest environment promoted lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, lower pulse rate, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity.

Other benefits that have been studied include reduced muscle tension, lower production of stress hormones, better cholesterol, improved sleep, revitalised physical energy and faster physical recovery.  It’s believed that nature can positively enhance the functioning of our immune, nervous and endocrine systems.

How much nature should we aim for?

A recent Australian study looked in the effects of nature on depression and high blood pressure and showed a dose-response relationship.  They concluded that visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more during the week were the way to go.  This could reduce our prevalence of these illnesses by up to 7% and 9% respectively.

Campsite www.thehappyhabitat.com.au

Here’s a story about a woman who turned to camping to help her cure her environmental illness.  It shows the power of nature to heal, improve circadian rhythms, lift our spirits and even enable us to tap in to our own sixth sense of the intangible around us.

Nature’s benefits in your own home

Can’t get out hiking and camping every weekend?  Let’s face it, many of us can’t.  Don’t despair, there are other ways you can harness some of the benefits of nature at home.  Firstly, open windows to let fresh air circulate.  Then, surround yourself with plants and natural objects as well as images of nature.  Gardening can also provide us with a whole host of mental and physical wellbeing benefits.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get outdoors and enjoy the natural world, just as Mother Nature intended!  You won’t regret it.  (Oh, and don't forget to turn your mobile off!)

Sky www.thehappyhabitat.com.au

If you’re interested in any other advice or tips on improving the health of your home and those within it, then please do contact us at The Happy Habitat.