I have been interested in the benefits of nature for many years having researched it for my under-grad degree and now for my doctorate…if I could give only one piece of advice to people, especially during the covid19 pandemic, it would be to get out in nature as much as possible. I’ve been speaking to a lot of people lately who, during lockdown, were going outside for walks more often because it was all they could do during that time but, are now falling into the trap of being too busy or too tired to make time for themselves and the things that they enjoy. I myself have found, particularly as my working day has switched to much more office-based computer work, that the time I spend outdoors has dramatically decreased and so I’m trying to increase it with regular breaks and long walks at the weekend. It’s difficult to include nature when we can’t plan the social activities and adventures that we’re used to but, it’s so important that we try. The thing about nature is, that it doesn’t just offer nice things to look at, it provides a restorative environment with numerous benefits, which will help our stress levels, increase productivity, improve our health, and help us connect with others at a time when connection is very much needed. The evidence for nature suggests that it can provide multiple positive outcomes simultaneously. The research shows that social interaction time is significantly higher when in an outdoor environment and that it also predicts intention for future exercise. One study found that for every additional hour spent visiting green space per month, feelings associated with loneliness decreased and social cohesion increased. Other research has shown increased feelings of revitalisation, sense of connectedness, and positive affect, as well as, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression when comparing nature to other environments Indicating that nature could be a setting which meets our psychological needs; a phenomenon explained by the stress reduction theory and attention restoration theory, which suggest that even when experienced for a short period of time, nature can improve mood, reduce stress, improve short term working memory and attention . Another area of research has identified several mechanisms which could explain how nature might have a positive impact on health with the immune system as a central pathway. It’s implied that nature features a number of active ingredients which can alter an individual’s physiological and psychological states as well as behaviours. These findings all support the biophilia hypothesis, an idea which suggests that we have an innate need to be in nature. It’s thought that when given the opportunity to spend time in nature, existential anxieties i.e., identity, happiness, isolation, meaning in life, freedom, and death can be addressed, leaving space for individuals to be fully flourishing, both individually and collectively. It’s a phenomenon which could perhaps explain why concepts such as Park Run, a free weekly 5k run or walk which has spread to parks across the world, are so successful…We feel better, connect more with others, and develop the confidence and desire to progress, grow and strive. We don’t even have to exercise to reap the benefits of nature…studies have found that by simply being mindful of your environment, looking at images or even viewing it through a window can increase well-being and sense of connectedness. If you speak to any of the volunteers at Park Run they will probably tell you, that it has in some way changed their lives, showing that you don’t have to participate in the actual activity to see a positive difference. Unfortunately, Park Run is currently not available due to the covid19 restrictions however, nature is very much still accessible in some shape or form. So, if you find yourself struggling mentally or physically, my advice (after seeking medical advice if needed) is to get back to nature, in whatever way possible…where you can reconnect, restore, recover, refocus, and feel ready to fly.
listen to Tina talk more about this on Conversations with Sarah
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