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  • Writer's pictureMelanie

Discover the health benefits of nature!

Just thinking about being outdoors, in the sunshine, watching the world go by makes me feel more relaxed. To be outdoors taking time to appreciate the small things gives me a real sense of calm. Why is the effect of nature on our mental health so powerful, and are there other benefits too?


Spending time in nature has huge benefits to wellbeing, including:

  • Increased happiness and sense of wellbeing

  • Reduction in stress

  • Supporting anxiety and depression

  • Reduction in blood pressure

  • Increased sense of satisfaction

  • Boosting relaxation

  • Encourages activity and socialisation


GPs are now writing an increasing number of ‘green prescriptions’ for time spent outdoors, such as walking or joining a gardening group with the aim to reduce stress, improve recovery and build resilience.(1)





Research studies have provided a growing body of evidence for the association between spending time in nature and improved cognitive function, mental health, blood pressure, physical activity levels and sleep quality. Experimental studies have shown that exposure to natural environments reduces cortisol levels, one of the main body chemicals associated with stress.

A study in California found that 50 minutes of walking in nature had a positive effect on mood and anxiety levels while also increasing working memory performance compared to walking in an urban environment. Forest bathing studies report reduced mental health symptoms. A UK study has shown that 5 hours a week spent in the garden leads to lower levels of depression.(2)


A review of over 70 research trials has suggested that exposure to nature reduces blood pressure. This may be linked to research findings that the closer we live to green spaces, the more likely we are to be physically active. The Scottish National Health Service points out that a vigorous walk of 30 minutes in a natural environment, 5 days a week, can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 20-30%, of diabetes by 30-40%, of hip fractures by 36-68%, bowel cancer 30%, breast cancer 20%, and depression and dementia 30%,(3)

It’s definitely worth getting active outdoors!


We don’t all have the luxury of access to a beautiful park or the open countryside on our doorstep, but all is not lost. It has been found that being able to see some nature, even if only a tree, from our windows can make a difference to our wellbeing.(4)


Bringing nature indoors is beneficial too, a cheerful bunch of tulips can lift our spirits, having house plants can help purify the air inside our homes in addition to giving us the visual positives of nature, growing herbs on the windowsill or sprouting seeds to eat has the bonus of extra nutrition when we use them in our dishes!


Ideas to help let nature benefit you:

  • Take a daily walk in a green space such as the park, tree-lined streets or the countryside if possible.

  • Spend time sitting on a garden or park bench, taking in the sights, smells and sounds around you.

  • Make a little veg plot to grow your own. This can be in pots on a balcony or in a back yard. Herbs such as chives, mint and rosemary are easy to grow.

  • Plant bee and butterfly friendly flowers, doing good for you and for nature!

  • Eat outdoors as the weather warms up, perhaps take some cake (like my delicious apple cake) and a flask of tea for a picnic by a river or in a park for a change of scenery.

  • Put a house plant in every room (real not plastic!). Plants such as the peace lily, spider plant, aspidistra and parlour palm are easy to look after. See Easy House Plants to Grow - BBC Gardeners World Magazine for more ideas.

  • A cheerful bunch of seasonal flowers on the kitchen table can brighten up a dull day.

  • Make your screen saver a nature picture, yes, this has some of the benefits of being outdoors while we are sat at our desks!




References:

1. Shanahan DF, Astell–burt T, Barber EA, Brymer E, Cox DTC, Dean J, et al. Nature–based interventions for improving health and wellbeing: The purpose, the people and the outcomes. Sports. 2019;7(6).

2. Jimenez MP, Deville N V., Elliott EG, Schiff JE, Wilt GE, Hart JE, et al. Associations between nature exposure and health: A review of the evidence. Vol. 18, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021.

3. NHS Scotland. Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2011 - Transforming Scotland’s Health - gov.scot [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2022 Mar 7]. Available from: https://www.gov.scot/publications/chief-medical-officer-annual-report-2011-transforming-scotlands-health/

4. Soga M, Evans MJ, Tsuchiya K, Fukano Y. A room with a green view: the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ecol Appl. 2021;31(2).

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