Intuitively, many people understand nature’s role in human health.
Whether it is walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean, or hiking in the mountains, interaction with nature seems to have a positive effect on humans. The sounds, smells, and sights of the great outdoors appear to have an amazing stress-reducing capacity. Research backs up this folk wisdom, showing that spending time with nature has extensive mental health benefits, can decrease feelings of depression, increase self-esteem, decrease tense feelings, help us to be more caring, less aggressive and violent, be less likely to procrastinate, and better able to work through problems.
One study from 2007 done in the UK compared the mental state of depressed individuals who took a walk in a park outdoors and a walk inside a shopping center. 71 percent of the group who took a walk in the park reported that their levels of depression decreased, compared to only 45 percent of the group who walked inside the shopping center. Additionally, 22 percent of the group who walked in the shopping center reported their depression levels increasing.
The same study also showed that 71 percent of the participants who walked in the park reported feeling less tense, compared to 50 percent of those who walked in the shopping center. Additionally, a whopping 90 percent of participants who walked in the park reported an increased self-esteem, compared to only 44 percent of the participants who walked in the shopping center.
A 2009 study from the University of Rochester found that when study participants were exposed to pictures of nature, they were more likely to list connectedness and community higher as life aspirations than wealth and fame than when the participants were exposed to urban pictures. The same study also found that when participants were exposed to pictures of nature, they were more likely to share money with others than when they were exposed to urban pictures.
Research done by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied public housing in Chicago and randomly assigned each subject to a room with a view of grass and trees or a view of a barren courtyard. They found that subjects who were assigned to rooms with a view of nature had fewer aggressive conflicts, incidents of domestic violence, procrastinated less on goals they deemed important, and were less likely to believe that they had unsolvable problems than subjects who had views of the courtyard.
These studies underscore the importance of not losing touch with nature. In many modern societies where depression levels are soaring, an effective tool to help can be found in their own backyards.
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