We need nature, and we know it. Spending two hours every week, either at one go or spaced out over several days, results in increased health and a stronger sense of wellbeing, according to a study conducted by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter. Epidemiological studies and measurements of before and after exposure to nature, are consistently providing robust indicators of the role that the natural environment plays to foster sustainable wellbeing.
Over 20,000 people participated in the ECEHH study, which found that spending 120 minutes a week in green spaces led to reports of good health, psychological wellbeing, reduced anxiety, and reduced negative emotions. The study was conducted earlier this year, and shows that the two hour threshold is non-negotiable in order to create lasting benefits.
There is a growing body of research to support an intuitive understanding of nature, which many of us share. The experience of nature as a source of healing and balance comes at a difficult time in human history. There are concerns about our overuse of smart phones and other technology, to the detriment of nature’s presence in our lives, is creating real problems in our lives and our communities.
Cities around the world are responding, by creating or enhancing parks and wooded areas. Schools and other institutions are being designed with large windows and access to trees and green or blue spaces, opening onto the Mediterranean Sea. Younger people are positively demanding higher quality experiences in healthy outdoor locations, as a basic fundamental right.
A 2015 study supports this basic need, by comparing the brain activity of a sample of people after walking for 90 minutes in a natural or urban environment. Findings show that those who took a walk in the green area had less activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that activates various kinds of rumination, anxiety, and negative emotions.
Other studies show that the effects of nature may go deeper than providing an individual sense of wellbeing. Nature helps by reducing crime and aggression. A study of 2,000 people published in the UK has found that ongoing exposure to nature translates into more community cohesion and substantially lower crime rates.
The pace of life in today’s world is also having repercussions on our psychophysical balance. A sedentary life encourages stress, which we have to deal with every day. We spend too much time in front of flickering screens, under conditions that make us feel tired, de-centred and bored. However by stepping out of artificial environments into the magic of nature, we can make all the difference to our day.
Nurturing our relationship with nature is a deeply beneficial practice, and can be accomplished in a number of ways. Whether guided by a therapist or practiced by the individual, spending time getting to know the natural world around us is a reminder of the simple fact that reclaiming our natural environment will make us healthier and encourage more peaceful communities, and more resilient societies.
Pete Farrugia is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist. In his profession he explores the intersection of psychosocial wellbeing, spiritual development, and creative expression.