Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behaviour. This can help us to reduce anxiety and stress, and to increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.
Researcher, David Strayer, of the University of Utah says, “People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for hundreds of years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers,” – “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”
While he and other scientists may believe nature benefits our wellbeing, we live in a society where people spend more and more time indoors and online. Findings on how nature improves our brains brings added legitimacy to the call for preserving natural spaces—both urban and wild—and for spending more time in nature in order to lead healthier, happier, and more creative lives.
Being in nature decreases stress!
In one recent experiment conducted in Japan, participants were assigned to walk either in a forest or in an urban centre (taking walks of equal length and difficulty) while having their heart rate and blood pressure measured. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their moods, stress levels, and other psychological measures.
Results showed that those who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates and higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress), and reported better moods and less anxiety, than those who walked in urban settings. The researchers concluded that there’s something about being in nature that had a beneficial effect on stress reduction, above and beyond what exercise alone might have produced.
In another study, researchers in Finland found that urban dwellers who strolled for as little as 20 minutes through an urban park or woodland reported significantly more stress relief than those who strolled in a city centre. The reasons for this effect are unclear, but scientists believe that we evolved to be more relaxed in natural spaces.
Research suggests there’s something about nature that keeps us psychologically healthy, and that’s good to know, especially since nature is a resource that’s free and that many of us can access easily.