Last week we introduced you to Amy Tunstall, an incredible young woman who has taken on a bold expedition of the Bruce Trail with the goal to raise mental health awareness. As the founder of Aim Outside, Amy understands just how good ‘green’ is for your mental health—which is exactly what we’re going to talk about today.
The notion that exposure to nature has healing properties isn’t new, but with the advent of Western science, medicine, and technology we’ve become distanced from this line of thinking. A growing body of research on the relationship between natural settings and our mental health seems to suggest that there might be more to nature than what meets the eye.
The following are findings from recent research pointing to the mental health benefits of exposure to natural settings or green spaces. Mental health was usually quantified by means of self-reports of mood and self-esteem, tests of concentration, or measurements of biological stress markers such as cortisol levels. The natural settings under study have been park areas, or green university campuses as opposed to true wilderness areas; study participants were frequently university students.
A Natural View
- When populations confined in institutions like hospitals and prisons, or other windowless settings, were provided a view of nature, people showed reduced stress
- Students taking tests in a setting with a natural view scored better than those with a non-natural view (indicating improved concentration)
- Apartment dwellers with views of nature reported greater well-being and satisfaction with the neighbourhood than those without.
Being in Nature
- Proximity seems to matter. The closer the green space, the more time people tend to spend there; the more time spent in the green space, the lower the stress levels.
- Benefits of spending time in nature have included increased feelings of energy and reductions in anxiety, anger, fatigue, and sadness.
- Those with the highest levels of stress may benefit the most from time spent in nature; repeated contact with nature may have cumulative benefits
Being Active in Nature
- Walking or running in a natural setting suggests several benefits, including:
- a greater sense of revitalization and positive engagement
- decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression
- increased energy
- heightened enjoyment of and satisfaction with activity outdoors, and
- a stronger intent to repeat the activity.
- The greatest improvements of self-esteem and mood appear within the first five minutes of activity in a natural setting.
- Compared to urban settings, walking in nature has been shown to reduce anger and lower blood pressure.
- The restorative benefits of walking in a rural setting appear greater than those in an urban setting for adults with good or poor mental health. Gains were greater for those whose mental health was poor.
- In a study involving participants with a major mood disorder, improvements in both short-term memory and mood were greater after a walk in nature versus an urban walk.
- Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia showed physiological, attitudinal, and behavioural improvements when exposed to particular natural settings, especially appropriately designed gardens.
There are repeated implications that individuals with the greatest deficits may actually gain the most from exposure to and activity in nature. While it’s not a cure for poor mental health, many studies suggest that time spent in green spaces could be beneficial.
What are you waiting for? Go green for your mental health and enjoy the fresh air!
For more information about the research discussed in this post, including full citations and related resrouces, see “The Nurture of Nature: Natural Settings and Their Mental Health Benefits” on CMHA Ontario’s Minding Our Bodies website at www.mindingourbodies.ca.