Home Mental Health & Well-Being 5 Ways Being in Nature Benefits Our Well-Being, According to a Mental Health Expert

5 Ways Being in Nature Benefits Our Well-Being, According to a Mental Health Expert

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A growing body of research continues to demonstrate that being in nature helps people who are dealing with mental illness.

But the business of modern life is leaving many of us with much less time to enjoy the natural world around us.

In fact, an estimated 1.1 million fewer people across the UK gained the health benefits from spending time in nature in 2022 compared with two years earlier.

Mental health expert, Dr Katy James, explains: “Many of us spend hours indoors or in front of a screen every day – whether that’s sitting in an office, taking back-to-back Zoom calls from home, or scrolling through social media. As a result, we’re left with much less time to enjoy the natural world around us. But carving out some time in the day to be in nature can be really beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing.”

In case you need any persuasion to take a break and step outside, Dr James, mental health clinical director at Vita Health Group, has shared five benefits of spending time in nature, and explains how these can help to improve mental health and wellbeing. 

1. Help to reduce stress and anxiety

Studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels and reduce anxiety. Plus, multiple research studies have suggested that “green exercise” – physical exercise undertaken in a natural environment—can help reduce anxiety disorders.

2. Promote feelings of happiness

It’s well known that even in small amounts, outdoor physical activity can have a positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Exercise increases the production of our brain’s “happy hormones”, also known as endorphins. In fact, research has suggested that exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression to a similar extent as antidepressant treatments alone (or in combination with exercise).

Researchers have also found that spending time in nature can benefit children’s mental health. One study in Denmark that examined 900,000 residents born between 1985 and 2003 found that children who lived in neighbourhoods with more green space had a reduced risk of mental disorders later in life.

3. Enhance sleep quality

Busy and stressful lives can prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep. But being outdoors in nature can help improve sleep quality by calming our minds and allowing us time to decompress. Going for a walk – especially during the afternoon or early evening – can help us relax before bedtime. Green spaces also promote mindfulness, which can benefit our cognitive and emotional systems. 

4. Boost vitamin D levels

Vitamin D has been found to impact mood and focus. Research studies have suggested a link between vitamin D and mental health. A 2021 study found that women with higher levels of serum vitamin D had 42% decreased odds of stress compared to those with inadequate vitamin D, or true vitamin D deficiency.  Plus, low levels of vitamin D may increase our risk of developing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

5. Improve concentration and focus

In the 1980’s, psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan developed the attention restoration theory (ART), with the hypothesis that nature’s exposure improves our concentration and renews our attention after exerting mental energy. Many studies since then have shown that spending time in nature can help to restore concentration and improve our ability to focus for longer periods of time.

How to better connect with nature

Longer days and warmer weather give us the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. Dr. James has shared how we can use our senses to better connect with the natural world.

  • Listen to the birdsong – how many different calls can you hear?
  • Smell the freshly cut grass or the different flowers around you – is there one that is particularly stronger than another?
  • Touch the bark of the trees or feel the soil between your fingers – what different textures do you feel?
  • Notice the colours around you – is there a predominant colour and how many colours do you see?
  • Taste locally grown fruits – from blackberries in hedgerows to growing your own strawberries on your windowsill – what flavours do you taste?
  • Reflect on your experience in nature once you’re back inside – what emotions are you feeling?

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