Feeling a bit crap? Not at your best, mentally or physically? I just read an amazing article in New Scientist magazine about how nature heals.
Being out and about in the countryside, on the beach or even looking at a screen showing a natural scene banishes stress hormones from your blood, reduces your blood pressure, invigorates your immune system and even encourages better creative reasoning. How cool is that!
If you were thinking about treating yourself to a pampering session or a big night out, why not save a load of cash and just spend time outdoors instead? According to research by a load of different scientists mentioned in the article, it’ll make you feel wonderful. And it’s free.
There’s a growing body of evidence proving the medical and psychological benefits of the great outdoors, even if it’s just your garden or local park. But the theory is nothing new. The Taoists drew links between nature and health 2000 years ago, and scientists started looking for evidence during the 20th century. Since then their findings have confirmed the Taoists’ feelings time after time. It’s the real thing. We love nature, nature loves us back.
Apparently biophilia, the love of nature, came about because humans evolved alongside and within the natural world and our feelings about it are hard-wired into our brains. Beautiful green landscapes and blue waters are a sure sign nature is thriving, with all the natural resources it provides for our survival, and our brains and bodies respond in kind.
My husband and I have noticed the effect on our long walks. We adore walking on the Sussex Downs, along the lovely coastline between Brighton and Eastbourne and over the escarpment on the peaceful, green plains to the north. Give it three miles or so and we always get a seriously pleasurable walker’s high. We set off with heads clogged with work and rubbish, returning home twenty miles or more later feeling remarkably fresh, happy and full of bright ideas.
Not to worry – you don’t have to walk 20 miles to feel the benefit! Just sitting and looking at nature does the job.
A battery of heart tests, stress tests, tests on the autonomic, immune, endocrine and central nervous systems have shown how all of them benefit from being in – or just looking at – at the natural world. A Japanese study showed how the immune system was boosted through forest walks, increasing the body’s production of natural killer cells, the ones that tackle viruses and tumours. Researchers have even managed to separate the results from the effects of exercise, proving it’s nature itself doing the good work, not just the exercise.
Looking at a virtual landscape has much the same effect, weirdly, but it’s enhanced by the scents and sounds of nature, things like birdsong, the rustling of leaves in the breeze, the aroma of freshly-mown grass and the ozone tang of the seaside.
Even if you live in the middle of a city, there’s green stuff to be had. When you take a stroll amongst it, you’re doing your body, mind and spirit a whole lot of good and it doesn’t cost a penny. That’s what I call a bargain!