About a month ago I happened upon an uber-cool nature fact regarding the ability of soil to improve our mood, acting in a similar way to antidepressants. As it turns out, digging into the matter can bring up scads more information on the subject of nature’s human benefits. Speaking personally, the research I found reveals what I’ve always felt when in nature, but never knew had scientific grounding. My guess is that a lot of people might be in a similar boat.
Nature certainly has a way of bringing about an inner sense of calm, often on a level unattainable elsewhere. Apparently there exists a thing called forest therapy, in which Japanese scientists Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Juyoung Lee have taken subjects on walks in the woods, finding that forest strolls, in comparison to urban ones, decrease stress hormone cortisol by 12.4%, sympathetic nerve activity (which is connected to hormonal stress response) by 7%, blood pressure by 1.4%, and heart rate by 5.8%. So that feeling of peace you get while walking at the park or hiking a woodsy trail-that’s more than just emotional; it’s also giving your body’s system a healthy and well-deserved break, and (I think) letting your mind open up wider in the process.
Bring your paint brush, pencil, instrument, or whatever it is you use to get creative. According to a recent study, nature also fosters creativity. Psychologists Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer took participants on a three day hiking and camping trip, finding their scores on creativity tests improved by 50% afterwards. Again, I think this points to nature’s ability to help us widen our minds-without the distractions of the societal world around us, we’re more able to think in an innovative way and reach for new possibilities.
Another Study conducted by Qing Li found that our immune systems may also benefit from time spent in nature, with participants being taken on a three day hike, at the end of which their blood tests showed a 40% increase in NK (“natural killer”) immune cells, which defend against tumors and viruses. The subjects were also taken on a walk through the city, at the end of which their blood tests showed no increase.
The work of Stephen and Rachel Kaplan points towards nature also being a vehicle for improved concentration. Their research suggests nature’s ability to foster our involuntary attention, when a person’s focus is engaged by their surroundings without exertion of effort. It makes sense; nature is something of a playground for the senses. This nurturing of involuntary attention rests and restores our ability to exert voluntary attention, the kind which requires active focus.
How do you find yourself affected by nature?