Benefits of Nature Confirmed by Science

The benefits of nature have been touted by folks who love the outdoors for centuries. Find out how a new study shows that they’ve been absolutely right all along.

I’ve mentioned our family cottage here a time or two before. That’s because I think it’s a perfect example of how we all need nature in our lives.

Part of the reason my parents bought that land in the wilderness back in the 70s was that they found themselves part of the “sandwich” generation. They felt squeezed by the pressures of caring for elderly parents on the one hand while still being responsible for raising a family on the other.

The cottage is only a modest little bungalow nestled into a pretty nondescript corner of the bush. Yet, somehow they always felt better there. When the stress became too much at home, it was “off to the cottage.”

spending time in nature was a valuable experience

Everyone in our family agrees that spending time in nature as we grew up was a valuable experience. That’s why the property is still in the family today more than four decades later.

Being close to nature is good for us. Wiser minds than mine have recommended exposure to nature for centuries.

Henry David Thoreau was one of the most prominent enlightenment thinkers to extol the benefits of nature. In his memoir Canoeing in the Wilderness he wrote, “There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”

thoreau one of the first to go hiking and canoeing

Thoreau was an obscure figure in his lifetime but his writings have inspired millions of people over the centuries. He was one of the first people to take up hiking and canoeing as leisure activities to soak in the benefits of nature.

John Muir was a similar figure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his book Picturesque California, he wrote, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”

Muir became known as the “Father of the National Parks.” He was a tireless nature advocate and, as it happens, he once visited Singing Sands on the Bruce Peninsula in Canada just a mile or two from where our cottage sits.

muir known as the father of the national parks

In more modern times, Rachel Carson promoted the benefits of nature in her 1965 book The Sense of Wonder. She wrote, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature; the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”

Rachel Carson became the face of the modern environmental movement. Her most famous book Silent Spring condemned pesticide overuse but most of her writings have a more positive tone, emphasizing nature’s benefits.

More recently, the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing has spread around the world. Its proponents believe that physical activity in green spaces reduces stress.

forest bathing has spread around the world

This movement and others like it maintain that nature’s green spaces balance our stress hormones. In their view, this improves human health through cognitive benefits, reducing high blood pressure and boosting our immune systems.

Rachel and Stephen Kaplan went so far as to present an idea called Attention Restoration Theory in their book The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. They suggest that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature or even after looking at pictures of natural scenes.

This week, modern science vindicated all of those who advocate for the health benefits of nature. Researchers from the University of Plymouth reviewed a survey called the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) done by the group Natural England.

modern science vindicated health benefits of nature

The team followed nearly 5,000 adults living in England. They looked into three ways people can have contact with nature.

Contact with nature could be incidental, like living next to a park, intentional, like going on a hike or indirect, like watching a nature documentary on Netflix.

The researchers also looked at connectedness with nature. This was defined as a person’s “subjective sense of their relationship to the natural world.”

feeling connected to nature leads to well being

The team wanted to test the idea that feeling connected to nature leads to a greater sense of well being on a large, valid sample. Researchers picked people from the MENE study and surveyed them quarterly for almost three years.

They published the results in the latest edition of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. The team showed that people who spend time in natural settings experience all of the physical and mental health benefits reported by the forest bathing crowd.

Further, activity in nature is good for society as a whole. This is an area that hadn’t been given much thought until now.

activity in nature is good for society as a whole

There are obvious benefits to public health when people manage their stress better. Beyond that, the study showed that nature lovers take up activities that help our planet’s health like recycling and conservation programs.

Professor Leanne Martin, lead author of the study put it this way. “Our results suggest that physically and psychologically reconnecting with nature can be beneficial for human health and wellbeing, and at the same time, encourages individuals to act in ways which protect the health of the planet.”

The study pointed out that people now spend more of their leisure time than ever indoors. This concerns the team because the need for nature appreciation has never been more urgent, considering the climate and extinction crises our planet faces.

people spend more time than ever indOors

More and more, people tend to feel cut off from nature. Some people are even afraid of it.

John Muir described it this way. “Some have strange morbid fears as soon as they find themselves with Nature, even in the kindest and mildest of her solitudes, like children afraid of their mother; as if God were dead and the devil were king.”

We seem to think that we live “here” in town and that nature is “out there” in the forest. That’s just not how things work.

nature is everywhere and in everyone

Nature is everywhere and in everyone. You’ll find the natural world in a huge metropolis and in a virgin forest. Nina Smiley and David Harp discuss this further in their book Mindfulness In Nature.

It’s the same with the universe. It’s not beyond our sky in “outer space.” We are in the universe and the universe is in us.

We need to get away from this feeling of separateness and understand that the real state of nature and the universe is unity. Our notions of separateness are all in our head.

need to get away from this feeling of separateness

Marian Spain is the Chief Executive of Natural England. As she put it, “We look forward to using the research as we work with our many partners to support more people from all walks of life to benefit from thriving nature.”

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:
University of Plymouth
Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours
Mindfulness In Nature
Mass Extinction Happening Again
Nature Emergency – Time to Make It Official
Biodiversity Always Wins

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