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The Health Benefits of Nature

Published 2:05 pm UTC October 20, 2019

Welcome to the Helix Blog where our team will be sharing the latest news and discoveries on all things health, wellbeing and resilience!

With summer fast approaching (we hope), we thought we’d kick things off by sharing the results of a recent study on the positive link between time spent in nature and improved wellbeing led by Dr Mathew White of University of Exeter Medical School and Natural England.

Pablo Guerrero

20,000 individuals from across England were asked how often they spent time in nature recreationally per week as well as information about their health and wellbeing. Six out of seven of individuals who reported high life satisfaction, good health and wellbeing spent at least 2 hours in nature per week, if not more. On the flip side, half of the people who said they spent no time in nature reported being unsatisfied with their lives, with a quarter saying they had poor health.

Surprisingly, these results are applicable across all demographics regardless of income, age or whether they lived in the city or countryside AND are also true for individuals with disabilities and long-term illnesses.  

More research is needed to ascertain why being in nature is so beneficial, but for now, the results confirm what many of us already experience when we spend time in the great outdoors – feeling more relaxed, centred and grounded. It may also explain the steady rise in volunteers for community gardening projects as well as increased referrals to outdoor activities as part of social prescribing services.

In 1982, the Japanese started a national initiative called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, which simply put is the art of connecting with nature. The aim was and still is to encourage people to spend more time sitting or walking among trees. Multiple studies have been carried out over the past few decades to study the effect of forest bathing and the results are consistently positive; People who practice shinrin-yoku regularly have lower blood pressure and experience a reduction in stress hormone production and depression.

Along with the standard recommendations of drinking 1.2L of water a day, eating our 5 a day and getting 2.5 hours of exercise a week, we might want to start thinking how we can get out more. The study showed that we can split the 2 hours into smaller chunks and that we don’t need to actually do anything. Nature itself is enough to activate our senses and help us practice staying present by focusing on the colours, the sounds and the scents around us. For those that can, walking around is also a welcome antidote to the sedentary lifestyle that has, unfortunately, become the norm.

For many of us, especially if we live in the city finding an ideal spot may not be the easiest thing, but forests, public gardens or even our own small gardens can all be calming beautiful options! It’s about taking the time to step away from our often hectic lifestyles, empty our minds and unwind.