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The Mental, Emotional and Physical Benefits of Nearby Nature

Posted by Christina Hickman at Apr 28, 2020 11:23 AM |
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You don't have to go far to get the health benefits of the great outdoors. The science agrees. Learn more about of positive effects of nearby nature — from the trees on our street, to our yard, our home and even on our screens.

The physical, mental and emotional benefits of time spent in nature are well-documented, and they’re even influencing how health care providers advise their patients. Recently, the world for many has shrunk to their neighborhood — and even just the view out their own window. So, in these uncertain times, when we need that healing power of time in nature perhaps more than ever, how can we benefit from experiences closer to (or even inside) our homes? Here's what the science says. 

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 Science is showing that all nature, no matter how small or close by, is a powerful tool for helping and healing our minds, body and heart. Photo by Britt Lê.

Nature Near Your House

Thankfully, there’s plenty of evidence around the benefits of close-in nature experiences. Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences note that “120 minutes of nature contact a week is associated with improved self-reported good health and well-being.”

Read more:

Nature in Your Yard

But what about those of us who can’t leave our homes during this time, or don’t live within walking distance of a green space? (Unfortunately this is true for too many Washingtonians and is one of the reasons WTA is working to increase equitable trail and green space access through our Trail Next Door campaign.) People with gardens swear that the simple act if digging around in the dirt and grass is soothing. Science backs that feeling up. A 2009 study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that “patients with clinical depression who participated in routine therapeutic gardening activities experienced a reduction of severity of depression, and increased attentional capacity, benefits that lasted up to three months after the program ended.”

Read more about horticultural therapy and other nature treatments

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 Big leaves, small leaves and even leaves on a phone screen will all provide a boost to the brain and body. Photo by Brandi Stafford.

Nature in Your Home

It’s time to bring nature indoors. If you had doubts about house plants (or lacked motivation to test your green thumb), know that research supports the health and wellness benefits of exposure to indoor plants. One 2009 study found that “Hospital patients with plants in their room display less fatigue and pain, shorter hospitalization, less anxiety, and higher hospital and room satisfaction.” 

Indoor plants at home are known to reduce stress. Results from The Journal of Physiological Anthropology suggest that “active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work … accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings,” and have a natural healing quality.

They also improve air quality by removing organic chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia from the air (take it from NASA) and act as a natural humidifier (plants release moisture from their leaves through a process called transpiration). 

And all for your folks building out “home offices” at this time? You might want to invest in a few plants or at least sit near a window. Studies show that offices with plants make you more productive. Views of nature from windows help reduce stress, boost productivity, think more creatively,  improve job satisfaction and help workers stay more attentive.

Read even more:

Why Plants in the Office Make Us More Productive

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Listening to recorded birdsongs or watching a nature documentary have been proven to have positive effects. Photo by wafflesnfalafel. 

Nature on Your Screen

As with many other areas of life, technology is proving to be a powerful connector — even when it comes to the outdoor experience. A recent research study conducted by Professor Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley in conjunction with BBC Earth found that even small doses of nature viewing (like watching short clips of Planet Earth II) increased positive  feelings of awe, amazement and wonder while decreasing negative feelings of nervousness, anxiety and fear; stress and overburden and tiredness, fatigue and low energy. Similar studies have shown the same to be true for listening to nature sounds, like a babbling brook or birdsongs. Research out of the University of Michigan demonstrates that when looking at photos of nature, memory and attention scores improved by about 20%. While watching and listening from inside is no substitute for the real thing, science is showing the virtual landscape does have meaningful effects on the body and mind.

Keep learning:

Keep up to date with everything else our partners at the University of Washington are working on by checking out their current projects.


Scratch_That_Hiking_Itch on The Mental, Emotional and Physical Benefits of Nearby Nature

Just something about getting outdoors, hiking in particular, revitalizes my senses.

Feel so refreshed mentally, even if my body is really sore.

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Scratch_That_Hiking_Itch on Apr 28, 2020 12:56 PM