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The Nature Prescription

The Health Benefits of Connecting with Nature


Have you ever noticed how a walk in the woods or a day spent by the sea can leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated? It's not just your imagination—science has shown that being in nature can have profound effects on our physiology, influencing everything from our heart rate to our immune function.


Anyone who follows me will know my love of nature, it is how I support my mental and physical health. I am never happier than a day walking, immersing myself completely in the sights, sounds and smells, being at one with nature.



My body knows this is what I need, I crave the outdoors, but what do we know about the science behind this?


Research


Ulrich's Study on Hospital Patients (1984): Roger Ulrich's landmark study found that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery who had a view of nature from their hospital room experienced fewer complications, required fewer painkillers, and had shorter hospital stays compared to patients with a view of a brick wall. We are seeing new hospitals trying to incorporate nature views, for example, a new wing at Kings in South London.


Bratman et al.'s Study on Urban Green Spaces (2015): A study led by Gregory Bratman found that participants who went for a 90-minute walk in a natural environment reported decreased repetitive negative thinking and reduced activity in the brain region associated with mental illness compared to those who walked in an urban setting.


Mao et al., 2012 Research shows that people who practice forest bathing have optimum nervous system functions, well-balanced heart conditions, and reduced bowel disorders and it stimulates the production of anti-cancer proteins.


Biophilia Hypothesis: The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Being in natural environments may fulfil this innate need, promoting psychological wellbeing. biologist Edward O. Wilson has built on this hypothesis.


Top 5 Health Benefits


The health benefits below and more have been evidenced via various research studies.

 

1. Stress Reduction

One of the most well-documented effects of spending time in nature is its ability to reduce stress levels. When we're surrounded by trees, plants, and natural landscapes, our bodies enter a state of relaxation. Research has shown that exposure to nature can lower cortisol levels—the hormone associated with stress—leading to a calmer, more peaceful state of mind.

 

2. Improved Immune Function

Believe it or not, spending time in nature can give your immune system a boost. Studies have found that breathing in phytoncides—natural chemicals released by trees and plants—can increase the activity of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in fighting off infections and disease. So next time you take a deep breath in the forest, know that you're not only inhaling fresh air but also giving your immune system a helping hand.


3. Reduced Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Nature has a remarkable ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate, promoting cardiovascular health. When we're surrounded by greenery and natural landscapes, our bodies enter a state of relaxation, leading to a decrease in blood pressure and a slower heart rate. This not only feels good but also has long-term benefits for our heart health.


4. Enhanced Mood and Wellbeing

Perhaps one of the most noticeable effects of being in nature is its impact on our mood and overall sense of wellbeing. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can increase levels of serotonin—the "feel-good" neurotransmitter—in the brain, leading to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Nature also provides a sense of awe and wonder, which can elevate our spirits and enhance our overall satisfaction with life.


5. Improved Cognitive Function

Nature isn't just good for the body—it's good for the mind too. Research has shown that spending time in natural environments can enhance cognitive function, including attention, memory, and creativity. Whether it's a stroll through the park or a hike in the mountains, being in nature can clear the mind, boost creativity, and improve problem-solving skills. It has been shown to support ADHD, dementia and Parkinson’s.


Find Nature Everywhere


We are not all lucky enough to live near wide open spaces, but we can gain some of these benefits from time in a small, local park or a tiny garden. Wherever you are or whatever you are doing you have the choice of where you focus. Walking to work along a busy street, can you look up see the sky, notice the tree you walk past every day, hear the birdsong or focus on that tiny "weed" pushing through the crack in the pavement?


All these tiny interactions can build our sense of wonder and gratitude for the natural world. I'm off now to get outside and top up my nature prescription, I hope you will do the same.

 

 

 

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