Imagine you are in a space surrounded by trees and greenery that provide cool shade from the sun. A light breeze is blowing, and you are loving how it cools down your skin. You inhale fresh, crisp air that you can feel inside your body. Birds lightly chirp somewhere and it sounds musical.
Just imagining this may have reduced your stress levels considerably!
A study from University of Exeter Medical School analyzed mental health data from 10,000 city dwellers, mapping where the subjects lived over 18 years. They discovered people living near greener space to have reported less mental distress despite income, education and employment controls.
Large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression and nearsightedness, all issues linked with time spent indoors, has motivated scientists to determine how nature affects us mentally and physically.
Yet, according to Harvard School of Public Health, Americans spend more time inside vehicles than outdoors – less than 5 percent of their day.
A walk in the park keeps the doctor away
In 2009, a Dutch research uncovered a lesser occurrence of 15 diseases – including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines – in people who live close to green space.
In 2015, health questionnaire responses from more than 31,000 Toronto residents showed those living on blocks with more trees to have better heart and metabolic health equivalent to a $20,000 boost in income.
Living close to green spaces also provides lower mortality rates and reduces the amount of stress hormones in the blood.
Trees beat stress
Richard Mitchell, an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and originally a skeptic, conducted a large study that discovered less death and disease in people who lived near parks.
Scientists believe the primary effect of nature is lowering stress. Those who can see trees and greenery from their windows have been seen to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school and exhibit less violent behavior. Furthermore, measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate and sweating suggest that short doses of nature or even images of nature can calm people down and enhance their performance.
Nature makes you nice
Korean researchers studied brain activity in people viewing different images. Viewing urban scenes triggered blood flow in the amygdala, which triggers fear and anxiety. Comparatively, viewing natural scenes triggered the the insula and anterior cingulated, which process empathy and altruism.
You might say that nature makes us nicer as well. Even to ourselves.
One Stanford study analyzed the different effects of walking down a park or a busy downtown street in the brains of 38 volunteers. Those who walked through the park showed decreased activity in a section of the brain linked to depressive thoughts, but the city walkers did not. Bratman believes that nature may influence “how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.”
Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues discovered a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improved executive attention skills, such as short-term memory, while walking along a city street did not. The researchers note that patients could improve their cognitive function with no known side and at virtually no cost, all by simply interacting with nature.
Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider, devoted to the provision of evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorder and mental illness. If you or a loved one is currently struggling to regain control of your life, call us right away.
About the author
Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at email@example.com.