Nature time is beneficial for you. New Study Describes Why
- The relationship between nature and wellbeing is more substantial than previously believed, according to a recent study.
- Academics found 227 linkages or intangible “pathways”—what researchers refer to as “intangible contributions”—provided by nature that enhance wellbeing.
- Although the bulk of the results were favorable, several unfavorable relationships were also found.
- The study’s conclusions, according to researchers, can assist guide ecosystem management methods and legislation.
Numerous studies have shown the benefits that nature and the environment may have on one’s physical and mental health. Additionally, recent study from the University of Tokyo that was released on August 5 reveals that the advantages of spending time in nature go much beyond what was previously thought.
Researchers reviewed 301 scholarly publications from 62 different nations that discussed “cultural ecosystem services” (CESs), also referred to as the “intangible benefits” that nature makes to human well-being.
According to study co-author Alexandros Gasparatos, PhD, associate professor of sustainability science at the Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI) at the University of Tokyo, they discovered 227 distinct “pathways” that “link a single CES to a single constituent of human well-being, [which is] many more than we initially thought.”
How are nature and wellbeing related?
According to Gasparatos, spending time in nature offers opportunity for leisure and pleasure, spiritual fulfillment, personal growth, social interactions, and aesthetic experiences.
According to earlier research, participating in such activities can help one’s physical and mental health as well as their social cohesiveness and feeling of place.
Gasparatos said that in addition to the 227 routes found by University of Tokyo researchers, they also discovered 16 “individual processes.” These processes, according to Gasparatos, are the “overarching kinds of connections via which more focused routes are established.”
Gasparatos claims that although earlier research has already revealed a few of the pathways, the new study had discovered ten more. These consist of:
- Cohesive: The development of meaningful human relationships through interactions with nature.
- Formative: When elements such as mood, attitude, behaviors, and values change instantly or over a short duration, following interaction with nature.
- Satisfactive: Feeling that your expectations and needs are satisfied through interactions with nature.
- Transcendent: Obtaining benefits related to religious or spiritual values after interacting with nature.
“Our work is the first complete effort to organize them, even if the conclusions are not very surprising—at least to professionals in our field,” Gasparatos added. In this way, it offers a comprehensive knowledge foundation and conceptual framework for understanding how these connections take place.
These systems can be triggered in a number of different ways when it comes to connecting with nature and the environment. For instance, taking a leisurely walk in the woods, volunteering to clean up a beach, seeing a new city, or picking berries are all activities that foster a sense of connection.
The researchers also mentioned that there may be a crossover of pathways, which would increase their influence. Consider how both cognitive and evolutionary principles might be involved in gardening, a nature-based recreational activity.
However, stimulation need not necessarily originate from the outer environment.
According to Michal Matlon, a place and architectural psychologist at the LivingCore, “Their lofty ceilings pull us into abstract pondering and feelings of awe, as was known to designers of temples throughout for millennia.”
Results for wellbeing
According to researchers like Gasparatos, it has been difficult to determine the genuine impacts of nature on wellbeing.
Although there are connections between non-material advantages and human well-being, according to Gasparatos, “we are still not very certain as to the exact methods that these connections arise in reality, or their actual influence on different dimensions of human well-being.”
This is primarily due to the fact that several previous studies have employed various methodology and measurements or have concentrated on certain individuals, ecosystems, or geographic locations.
Still, Gasparatos said that he and his research team were able to better understand how the linkages occur in reality as well as their relative effects on different aspects of well-being.
The biggest benefits were seen in physical and mental health, with recreation, tourism, and aesthetic value — all notable CES contributors.
The significant role of CESs in driving feelings of connectedness and belonging followed second, as well as in establishing a sense of learning and capability.
According to Gasparatos, a variety of factors can influence a pathway’s impact on well-being.
“These include demographic background (i.e., gender, age, education, income), characteristics of landscape (i.e., greenery, size and shape of landscape elements), distance to the site, cultural and historical features, and personal preferences, and so on,” Gasparatos explained.
Nature’s impacts weren’t all for the better.
Despite finding myriad benefits in their analysis, the researchers also saw not-so-favorable outcomes between CESs and human well-being — discovering three negative mechanisms and some less beneficial pathways.
“Although we knew that such links might exist, there are few studies that try to systematize this information,” said Gasparatos.
Two primary factors were recognized as potential negative contributors to well-being:
- The degradation or loss of an existing CES, such as an unmaintained park or building development.
- “Disservices,” such as constant loud tweeting of birds outside your window, which some might find annoying.
They also identified the existence of “trade-offs,” whereby some individuals benefit from a particular CES, but others do not.
“For example, in an Indigenous community, promotion of tourism activities can create recreation opportunities for visitors — with multiple benefits for well-being, such as physical health, learning, etc. — and economic benefits to some locals (such as economic well-being),” Gasparatos said.
However, at the same time, he adds, the challenges of dealing with an influx of tourists “can compromise different well-being components for other locals (i.e., spirituality).”
Still, it’s important to remember that the study findings were largely positive.
“Overall, there is a higher prevalence in the literature of positive and high-magnitude CES impacts on human well-being, while there is a comparatively lower prevalence of lower magnitude or negative impacts,” the study authors wrote.
How nature is good for your body and psyche
We are aware that spending time outside in different locations has several advantages. But how precisely does nature affect our physiology and state of mind?
According to Matlon, “Nature’s advantages are assisted by its noises, odors, and all other senses,” in addition to its visual stimulus.
Studies have revealed that being in natural settings may cause a physiological reaction in humans that lowers our pulse rates, blood pressure, and muscular tension, according to environmental psychologist Lee Chambers.
According to Chambers, “there can also be some psychological healing, with decreased cortisol, enhanced focus, and a stronger sense of connection.”
Participants in earlier research studies have reported the following benefits as a result of these effects:
- lower levels of stress
- decreased stress and sadness
- increased self-worth
- a rise in self-assurance
How long should you spend outside?
Even for individuals who live in metropolitan regions, it might be difficult to set aside hours in a hectic schedule for outdoor activities. So, for how long should you spend immersed in nature to get the benefits?
Although the researchers in this study didn’t look at this aspect, previous studies have provided recommendations.
According to Matlon, “one of the first and most well-known environmental psychology research by Roger Ulrich shown that even just having a view of nature from your hospital bed may shorten your recovery from surgery and alter the amount of pain you feel.”
More recently, a 2019 study found that spending 120 minutes outside each week — which can be broken up into smaller blocks of time — was associated with better health and well-being. And another study from 2021 revealed that just 30 minutes of outdoor time could lower blood pressure by almost 10%.
“The overall consensus is that 2 hours a week or more make a marked difference to reported well-being and that as little as 20 minutes per day can have a positive impact,” Chambers said.
How to strengthen your relationship with nature
There are several CESs that can result in improved wellbeing, regardless of whether you live in an urban area or are surrounded by nature.
There are benefits closer to home than we would have anticipated if we can accept what we obtain from nature, which is all around us, according to Chambers.
Take up a new hobby or pastime, such as birding, gardening, paddleboarding, or just going for a run, that allows you to spend more time outside. If you live in a metropolis, you may go for a lengthy stroll around a brand-new area and interact with the people there.
Switching up your morning commute could also make a difference. “You will probably benefit even from just walking to work through a park or a quieter area with more trees,” Matlon said.
Stuck at a desk? Matlon suggested working with the design of the interiors where you spend your day. You might try:
- adding more indoor plants
- using furniture made of natural materials, such as wood
- letting in as much sunlight as possible
- hanging pictures and artwork of natural places
We can all agree that being in nature may make us feel good, and mounting research makes it clearer why.
The research from the University of Tokyo advances our understanding of how the environment affects our wellbeing and may have wider ramifications for public health.
Researchers’ results “may have practical uses to inform policymakers and practitioners in ecosystem management debate,” claims Gasparatos. In fact, according to Gasparatos, the team was awarded a grant to look into the connections between CESs and people’s well-being in Tokyo’s metropolitan areas as a result of their research.
Remember that even if you live in a city, there are several ways to access nature and still enjoy its benefits. A sense of connection to nature may be sparked by taking a stroll around the neighborhood, adding more plants to your house or place of business, and obtaining more sunshine.