The Benefits of Nature are MentalPhysicalSocial

Couple gazing at trees on Mt. Tam, Photo courtesy of Alison Taggart-Barone, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The Mental Benefits

Psychologically, time spent exercising in nature has been reported to not only reduce stress,[1] and improve attention,[2] but also to positively impact mental restoration and coping with attention deficits (ADD and ADHD).[3]

In one survey where 450 parents nationwide ranked their children’s ADHD symptoms after taking part in various activities, many parents ranked activities conducted outside in green space as being particularly helpful with the management of the children’s ADHD.[4]

Similarly, in regards to anxiety, a Norwegian study where 345,000 individuals were examined found that those with lower rates of anxiety disorders were those who lived near parks, agricultural land, and other types of green space regardless of income.[5]

Women hiking in Bay Area, photo courtesy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The Physical Benefits

Exercising and spending time in nature has also led to many physical benefits.[6] Some of these include better overall self-reported health, increased longevity,[7] and lowered incidences of chronic disease stemming from inactivity.

In a survey conducted of 3,000 elderly Tokyo residents, those who lived in close proximity to a park or green space had lower rates of mortality as a result of cardiovascular disease.[8] Moreover, it has also been reported that time spent in nature is not only linked to improved nearsightedness,[9] but also increased physical resilience.

A seminal study in1984 found that recovering patients who were kept in rooms with views of trees and grass recovered faster and required overall less medication than those who were kept in rooms without access to trees and grass.[10] Furthermore, outdoor exposure also has been associated with an increased intake of vitamin D. Regular instances of outdoor exposure have been found to help children remain alert throughout the day, maintain elevated moods, and fall asleep easier in the evening.[11][12]

Girl smiling with group of people on Mt. Tam, photo courtesy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The Social Benefits

In addition to providing individual physical and mental health benefits, studies conclude that spending time and exercising in nature also provide social benefits. This is because many activities conducted in the outdoors—such as walking with others, picnicking, and sitting in a park—can done with one or many individuals.

As a result, these activities can work to strengthen and build both an individual’s and a community’s social networks and bonds. Similarly, when the amount of green space in a community is increased through tree planting or the cultivation of community gardens, aggression, crime, and violence may be minimized over time.[13][14] Economically, boosting the amount of green space within a community can lead to increased property values and the reduction of air pollution.[15]

[1] Ulrich, RS; Simons, RF; Losito, BD; Fiorito, E; Miles, MA; Zelson, M. Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. J. Environ. Psychol 1991, 11, 201–230.

[2] Chang, C-Y; Chen, P-K. Human responses to window views and indoor plants in the workplace. HortScience 2005, 40, 1354–1359.

[3] Hartig, TM; Evans, GW; Jamner, LD; Davis, DS; Gärling, T. Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. J. Environ. Psychol 2003, 23, 109–123.

[4] Kuo, F.E., & Taylor, A.F. (2004). A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. Am J Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586.

[5] Mass, J., Veheij, R.A., de Vries, S.s Spreeuwenberg, P., Schellevis, F.G., & Groenwengen, P. P. (2009). Morbidity is relted to a green living environment. J. Epidemiol Community Health, 63(12), 967-973.

[6] Pretty, J; Peacock, J; Hine, R. Green exercise: The benefits of activities in green places. Biologist 2006, 53, 143–148.

[7] Takano, T; Nakamura, K; Watanabe, M. Urban residential environments and senior citizens’ longevity in megacity areas: the importance of walkable green spaces. J. Epidem. Com. Health 2002, 56, 913–918.

[8] Takano, T; Nakamura, K; Watanabe, M. Urban residential environments and senior citizens’ longevity in megacity areas: the importance of walkable green spaces. J. Epidem. Com. Health 2002, 56, 913–918.

[9] Rose, K.A., Morgan, I.G., Ip, J., Kifley, A., Huynh, S., Smith, W., & Mitchel, P (2008). Outdoor activity reduces the prevalence of myopia in children. Ophthalmology, 115(8), 1279-1285.

[10] Ulrich, R.S.(1984). View through a window may influence recovery. Science(224),224-225.

[11] Misra, M., Pacaud, D., Peryk, A., Collett-Solberg, P.F., & Kappy, M. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency in children and its management: review of current knowledge and reccomendations. Pediatrics, 122(2),398-417.

[12] Grinde, Bjørn, and Grete Grindal Patil. "Biophilia: does visual contact with nature impact on health and well-being?." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6.9 (2009): 2332-2343.

[13] Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001a). Aggression and violence in the inner city effects of environment via mental fatigue. Environment and behavior, 33(4), 543-571.

[14] Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001b).  Environment and Crime in the Inner City Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior, 33(3), 343-367.

[15] Bedimo-Rung, A.L., Mowen, A.J., & Cohen, D.A. (2005). The significance of parks to physical activity and public health : a conceptual model. Am J Prev Med, 28 (2 Suppl 2), 159-168.