Go Green: The Benefits of Nature

The joyful month of June is here, and with it, lawns and trees are greener than ever. Warmer weather and longer days make it an optimal time to get outdoors and enjoy the greenery. You may not realize, however, just how powerful “going green” can be. Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress, boost well-being, increase focus, and promote respiratory health.

Researchers at Stanford University were worried about the effects of urbanization on mental health, so they studied how a walk in a natural environment versus a walk in an urban setting affected people’s mood. The results strongly suggest that getting out into nature decreases negative thought patterns and soothes the mind, and could thus improve mental health. The same could not be said of walking in an urban environment. You can also thank trees for helping save lives: Scientists at the USDA Forest Service and the Davey Institute in Syracuse, NY, estimated that trees prevented more than 850 human deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in 2010, all due to air pollution removal. Finally, a study on green spaces and children found that greater access to vegetation not only reduced exposure to air pollution but also improved memory and attention in schoolchildren.

Naturalist Edward Wilson, who coined the term “biophilia” (defined as “humans’ innate tendency to focus on living things” ) back in 1984, is no doubt pleased – and not at all surprised – to hear these results. Even eight years ago, he was quoted as saying, “I’d be willing to place a bet that among people who get out into the outdoors early and really love it, there are fewer depressed people.”

What’s especially interesting is that you don’t even have to go outdoors to enjoy the benefits of nature (but we highly recommend doing so!). In a study done in the Netherlands, simply viewing photos of green scenes on a computer screen for a mere five minutes was found to support recovery after conducting stressful tasks.

All of this helps explain why office buildings and hospitals now feature indoor living green walls, vertical gardens, and other biophilia-inspired design elements, from garden views to nature photographs and artwork of natural scenes.

However, going outside is the best way to get exposure to nature. And when you do venture outdoors, be sure to protect your skin from sun exposure, bugs (especially ticks and mosquitoes), and poisonous plants. Lightweight and light colored long pants, long sleeves, and a hat go a long way in protecting you from all three.

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