Nature and our Mental and Physical Health
Our connection to nature has been an essential part of our survival since humans first evolved. To survive, we needed to be attuned to our surroundings so that we could find water and food, build shelter, and keep track of where we were. As a result, those who were better able to do these things and were more engaged and attentive to what nature was showing and telling them were more likely to have an evolutionary advantage and pass down their DNA (Capaldi, Dopko, & Zelenski, 2014). Only recently have we begun to live in urban environments that take us out of nature or minimize our exposure to it. Since our biology is programmed to connect to nature, though, we are missing out on key benefits of being surrounded by the outdoors. Research shows that contact with nature can lead to many significant benefits like better mood, increased ability to think and process information, and better physical health (Capaldi, Dopko, & Zelenski, 2014). It was even found that people feel happier when present in nature than when they are indoors or in a city (Capaldi, Dopko, & Zelenski, 2014).
The good news is that you don’t have to be completely off the beaten path and out in the woods for these benefits. One study looked at city-dwellers and assessed the impact of natural features and how they impacted mood and mental health (Bakolis, et al., 2018). These features included trees, gardens, parks, and the sounds of birds or water. They found that proximity to these features resulted in people reporting greater mental well-being and that there was also a lower rate of mental illness in those that lived close to natural features (Bakolis, et al., 2018). Exposure to these elements were time-lasting as well – meaning that the mood increases didn’t wear off as soon as one was absent from nature (Bakolis, et al., 2018).
The benefits of nature don’t end just with mood improvement though. Nature has even been found to have the ability to enhance people’s creativity (Plambech & Konijnendiiik van den Bosch, 2015). A study discovered that being in nature has the ability to engage our minds more creatively and focus our attention when developing new ideas (Plambech & Konijnendiiik van den Bosch, 2015). This same study also found that nature can have a calming effect that increases our mood, ability to problem solve, and make new mental connections (Plambech & Konijnendiiik van den Bosch, 2015).
As we’ve seen, there’s a lot of evidence that nature improves our mood and reduces stress. Sometimes, though, it’s not feasible to get out on a hike or drive to a place that is more removed from an urban environment. While working out in nature is a great way to build yourself physically and mentally, there are also ways to bring these benefits into your own home. Plants and trees are great at removing toxins from the environment and producing oxygen – essentially purifying and cleaning the air around them (Kim, et al., 2014). By placing indoor plants in your household, the concentration of organic toxins produced by dust, furniture, molds, or electronics is gradually reduced (Kim, et al., 2014). All of this improves the indoor air quality, allows for healthier breathing, and also offers some of the same benefits as being out in nature. Indoor plants have been shown to have a similarly positive impact on mental performance, reduced stress, and physical health as being out in nature does (Deng & Deng, 2018). This shows that integrating nature into an indoor space can be an effective way to bring the positive benefits of nature into your home (Deng & Deng, 2018).
So, if you can’t get outdoors, bring the outdoors into your home! The benefits are significant and also make your home or desk space feel comforting and welcoming. Being in nature allows for greater creativity and productivity, improved mood, reduced stress and anxiety, and allows us to focus more attentively. Find ways to get outdoors and experience nature. Whether it’s taking a walk in the park, finding a hiking trail, or doing a workout outdoors; all of these options will put you in a better mood and are critical for self-care and improving your mental health.
Want help or ideas on how to continue your mental health and physical fitness education? Check out some of our awesome free classes at our offices on meditation, dance fitness, or our abs and core workout. We also have more tailored experiences where you can work with our trainers or enroll in classes that are more specific for your needs like our 30/30 Wellness Workout or our Meditation or Positive Affirmation Workshop.
Bakolis, I., Hammoud, R., Smythe, M., Gibbons, J., Davidson, N., Tognin, S., & Mechelli, A. (2018). Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the Impact of Nature on Mental Well-Being in Real Time. BioScience, 134-145.