Spending the day outside in nature is wonderful; tiring perhaps, but also deeply satisfying. Our relationship to nature is primal – we thrive on it!
Urbanisation is taking a toll on our brain function and mental health. City dwellers have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, mood disorders and schizophrenia compared to those who live in rural areas.
In order to counteract this, all you need do is spend some time in nature. This can include many different natural environments, such as city parks, farms, beaches, wilderness areas or even just in your home garden. The most important thing is to find somewhere with as many living things and as little evidence of human presence as possible.
Spending time in green spaces is absolutely crucial to human wellness, and modern doctors are finally starting to realise how powerful nature can be – especially when it comes to those with chronic health issues.
Doctors in Scotland’s Shetland Islands are now issuing ‘nature prescriptions’ as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. And it’s not just doctors telling people to get outside and go hiking/biking/swimming or do some hardcore outdoor exercise. These aren’t high intensity prescriptions. Doctors are telling patients to get outside into forests, appreciate passing clouds, feel the exhilaration of wind on their face, skip stones on ponds, and go birdwatching.
In the Shetland Islands, if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression or even diabetes, odds are you’ll get a nature prescription. Of course, doctors are not prescribing time in nature as a total alternative to traditional health care, but they’re prescribing spending time in nature supplementally.
Spending time in nature is a subtle treatment compared to traditional meds; the only side effects are dirty fingernails and a feeling of profound serenity, but it really works.
Nature is an incredibly powerful balancer of the body.
Countless studies have shown that spending time in Nature:
Boosts Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills: Researchers at the University of London investigated the effects of nature to rebalance this technological drain on our cognitive abilities.
Promotes Compassion and Generosity: In a series of studies, one research group found that when you experience awe, it increases your ethical decision-making abilities, generosity and positive social behaviors, such as being helpful and cooperative.
Sharpens Mental Focus: A University of Michigan study asked participants to complete a memory test, go for a walk, then repeat the test again after they returned. One half of the group walked through a local arboretum and the other half walked down a busy city street. Those who had walked among the trees improved their performance on the memory test by almost 20 percent. Whereas, the city walkers had no noticeable improvement.
Stops Negative, Obsessive Thinking: In a recent study, participants reported their amount of rumination before and after a walk in a natural or an urban area. Those who walked for 90 minutes in nature reported a decrease in their negative thinking. They also had reduced activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area related to mental illness. Those who walked through an urban area reported no reduction in rumination, and their brain scans also showed no improvement.
Helps ADHD: A national study found that common after-school and weekend activities done in natural, outdoor environments may be effective in reducing these symptoms, such as simply reading in your backyard instead of inside. Researchers felt this could provide a widely available, free and non-pharmaceutical way to help those with ADHD.
Spending time in nature also decreases stress hormones, inflammatory markers and blood glucose levels.
Many of the above are experienced by those fighting cancer, which is why it is important that they spend time in nature as well.
Scotland isn’t alone in accepting nature as a conventional medical treatment.
In the United States, big shifts are happening in human’s relationship with nature. Some doctors in California have started prescribing nature to patients with profound financial or social struggles to help reduce stress and boost happiness.
Meanwhile, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) is donating $1 million to a new academic initiative within the University of Washington’s EarthLab. called ‘Nature for Health‘, that will study the link between human health and time spent outdoors, how to get more people access to green spaces and to fully document the benefits that come from having easy access to green spaces.
Write Your Own Nature Prescription
Spending time in nature hasn’t hit the mainstream just yet though, and too many individuals spend far too little time outdoors.
Nature is all around us; all you have to do is step outside to empower your own health. It is probably the most life-changing prescription you’ll ever get, and you don’t need a doctor to get one.