We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, but did you know that exercising in “green spaces” and in fact, just looking at nature has also been proven to benefit mental health and wellness? It’s true. A few years ago, the Canadian Mental Health Association published the article, “The Nurture of Nature: Natural Settings and Their Mental Health Benefit” (2013). This article offers a review of numerous research studies that point toward a strong connection between our exposure to nature and positive mental health. In fact, scientists have proven that our brains respond positively when exposed to natural settings, such as parks and woodland areas, lowering psychological stress and enhancing physical healing. Several interesting studies were done back in the 1980s that focused on the positive healing impact of nature on hospital surgery patients with a window view of the outdoors, students watching a stressful film who recovered faster in a natural setting, and prisoners with a view of nature who exhibited symptoms of stress less frequently. It seems that just looking at nature can improve attention, job satisfaction and mood.
Of course, even better than looking at nature, is getting out in green spaces, whether it be a country road, park or backyard. Again, research has shown us that improvements in energy, as well as lowered anxiety, decreased anger, and increased happiness are linked to being outside in green spaces. Interestingly, outside urban “non-green” spaces do not have the same positive impact on the brain. And obviously, getting exercise outdoors in nature holds the most benefit for the mind and body. Nature is a remedy for what ails us.
Are you getting out in nature these days? It seems that too often we spend much of our time indoors at work or in front of a screen. Get out for a walk and look at the neighbourhood flowerbeds, the trees, the sky. Notice the birds and squirrels and take a deep breath of fresh air. If you live on a busy main street, walk along a “greener” side road. Walk down to the park or ride your bike down a country road. If you aren’t able to get out and exercise, consider sitting in your backyard or at the park rather than staying indoors. Stop and pay attention to the healing benefits of nature, and you will be happier for it.