Millions of people make visits national parks each year, regional parks are usually full on weekends, and even tree lined streets are the preferred locations for coffee houses. People pay a premium for houses with a view. Why? Two primary reasons! First, it is an enjoyable experience. Second, getting close to nature has significant physical and mental health benefits.
Yet, our modern environment can be characterized by a dramatic decrease in our exposure to natural settings and a correlated increase in exposure to a technology intense environment. There has been a 20% decline in per capita visits to national parks since 1988, and an 18–25% decline in nature-based recreation since 1981.
And, Americans spend a whopping 93% of their time either indoors or in and enclosed vehicle.
The Benefits of Communing with Nature
Research into the benefits of exposure to nature are growing fast. Here is a sampling to the diverse and profound impacts.
Living in areas with walkable green spaces positively influenced the longevity of urban senior citizens independent of their age, sex, marital status, baseline functional status, and socioeconomic status.
The odds of hospitalization for heart disease or stroke was 37% lower among adults in neighborhoods that were highly green and accessible.
The more often a person visits urban open green spaces, the less often he or she will report stress-related illnesses.
Greener neighborhoods were associated with a healthy 8 hours of sleep, people in less green areas tended to get less sleep. This difference was not explained by controls for psychological distress, physical activity or other socioeconomic factors.
Patients in rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall.
Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50%.
While long-terms exposure to nature affects longevity, even a short-term exposure of 5 minutes improves mood and self-esteem.
Even viewing slideshows or photographs of nature has been shown to have positive effects on the cardiovascular system.
How does Nature Work this Magic?
The simple answer is that we don’t have a complete answer. We do know that the typical daily environment of Americans requires lots of attention, interruption and stress. In contrast, exposure to natural environments are associated with stimuli that elicit a kind of gentle, soft fascination, and are both emotionally positive and low-arousing.
While it will be intriguing to learn what underlies the health benefits of nature, the evidence is clear that it has a restorative effect on multiple dimensions of physical and mental well-being.
What is the take-away? Ramp-up your exposure to nature!