Does nature really boost your health and happiness?

Connecting with nature is not just good for our minds, but our bodies as well. Here are just a few reasons to check out the urban greenery or even plan a weekend forest escapes.

Many of us make the time for things like exercise and healthy eating because we’re aware of the health benefits. But with more and more Australians living in urban settings, plenty of research now shows we are neglecting another very healthy activity – engaging with nature.

Nature engagement might be as simple as visiting your local park, doing some gardening or walking your dog. But such simple activities can have profound results. So in our increasingly urbanised world, how exactly can we benefit from spending more time in nature?

So why nature?

Well, there is strong evidence to suggest that people have significant positive emotional experiences when immersed in nature. It is common for people to feel calm, elated, rested, rejuvenated and even experiencing spiritual fulfilment when exposed to the great outdoors.

Small studies have demonstrated that as well as decreasing feelings of anger and aggressiveness, walking in a natural environment could even lead to a reduction in blood pressure.

Other studies also demonstrate how our levels of stress and capacity to focus attention, are impacted by engaging with natural environments.

Stresses of the city

In a 2011 study researchers also found that people who have grown up in urban environments are more likely to experience social stress. Also those living in cities were more likely to suffer mood and anxiety disorders.

The evidence now presents a strong case for making our cities more liveable in a very green way, for our children and us. It was also found that after playing in and exploring natural play areas, children between five and seven years of age showed improvements in their motor abilities.

Dr Tristan Snell says there are also various clinical studies showing that nature can be beneficial for children with attention deficit disorders.

“If you take these kids into natural environments or go for a walk in a natural setting, they tend to show better ability to focus their attention afterwards,” he says.

Making our cities green

Essentially designing more green spaces in our cities could be considered a low-cost public health initiative. Some of the most significant ways that more green space can impact human health are through temperature regulation that makes cities cooler in times of extreme heat, and helping in the management of storm water run-off.

People are also generally attracted to beauty, so a green space can offer a range of beautiful environments that again provide positive mental health benefits

How to get involved?

So what are some easy ways to bring nature into our lives? Here are few suggestions

  • Plant a garden at home, or get involved in a local community group that protects and maintains a natural habitat in your local area. This will increase your physical activity and time spent outside, while also bettering the green spaces in your town or suburb.
  • Bring plants into your office and home. These will enhance the aesthetic appeal of where you work and live and improve air quality. Even apartments don’t have to be nature-free. Indoor plants, balcony gardens, and green courtyards can make a huge difference!
  • Exercise outside. Instead of spending time in an indoor gym, do your workouts outdoors. You need to exercise anyway, so why not maximise the health benefits by doing so in nature?
  • Have a pet if possible. The relationships we form with animals can lead to increased physical activity, such as dog-walking, and positive feelings of connections with another being.