Evidence of the positive effects that exposure to nature and natural environments have on human health and well-being can be found in numerous studies. Some examples from recent years follow:
April 23rd 2012 University of Kansas press release:
Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.
Ruth Ann Atchley, whose research is featured in this month’s Backpacker magazine, said the ‘soft fascination’ of the natural world appears to refresh the human mind, offering refuge from the cacophony of modern life.
‘We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones,’ said Atchley, associate professor and chair of psychology at KU. ‘We constantly shift attention from one source to another, getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of — things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.’
The researcher said that nature could stimulate the human mind without the often-menacing distractions of workaday life in the 21st-century.
Andrew J. Howell et al (2011) , ‘Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness’, Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2): 166-171.
Two studies examined associations among nature connectedness, well-being, and mindfulness in samples of undergraduate students while socially desirable responding was controlled. Significant associations emerged among measures of nature connectedness and indices of well-being (in Study 1 and Study 2) and mindfulness (in Study 2).
BJ Park et al (2010) ‘The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan’, Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine 15 (1): 18-26.
This paper reviews previous research on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing), and presents new results from field experiments conducted in 24 forests across Japan… The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments. These results will contribute to the development of a research field dedicated to forest medicine, which may be used as a strategy for preventive medicine.
Richard , M. Ryan et al (2010) ‘Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature’, Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 (2): 159-168.
Five studies utilizing survey, experimental, and diary methods assessed the effects of being outdoors on subjective vitality… Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.
December 18th 2008 University of Michigan press release:
University of Michigan psychology research in the December issue of Psychological Science explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature and found that walking in a park in any season, or even viewing pictures of nature, can help improve memory and attention.
U-M psychology researchers Marc Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan found memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature.
Researchers believe the findings could have broader impact on helping people who may be suffering from mental fatigue.
‘Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating,’ Berman said. ‘People don’t have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter.’
Q Li et al (2008) ‘Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins’, International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology 21 (1): 117-127.
These findings indicate that a forest bathing trip increased NK activity, number of NK cells, and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins, and that this effect lasted at least 7 days after the trip. Phytoncides released from trees and decreased stress hormone may partially contribute to the increased NK activity.
Jules Pretty (2007) ‘Comment: The healing powers of the great outdoors’, New Scientist 2635: December 22.
In a green place, whether in city or countryside, being close to nature seems to improve our well-being, even when it is bitterly cold, fiendishly hot, or pouring with rain. The moderate physical activity of walking in an environment like this seems to bring clear benefits to physical health and well-being.
In addition, there is growing evidence from the UK, Scandinavia and the US that being active outdoors (‘green exercise’, for short) can also bring substantial mental health benefits by reducing stress levels and enhancing mood.
Cecily Maller (2006) ‘Healthy nature healthy people: “contact with nature” as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations’, Health Promotion International 21 (1): 45-54.
Initial findings indicate that nature plays a vital role in human health and well-being, and that parks and nature reserves play a significant role by providing access to nature for individuals. Implications suggest contact with nature may provide an effective population-wide strategy in prevention of mental ill health, with potential application for sub-populations, communities and individuals at higher risk of ill health.
FE Kuo & AF Taylor (2004) ‘A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study’, American Journal of Public Health 94 (9): 1580-1586.
We examined the impact of relatively ‘green’ or natural settings on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms across diverse subpopulations of children… Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.