There are various scientific studies that show the benefits of humans connecting to nature as well as how reduced interaction with the natural world effects humans both physically and socially.
Since 2000, the number of studies of the impact of nature experience on humans has grown from a handful to thousands. This expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses.
One study that stands out particularly is on Environmental Deficit Disorder and the effects on today’s society. Richard Louv, author of “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” explains how human health may be integrally connected to our relationship with the outdoors. “As our lives have become immersed in technology and a fearfulness from 24-hour news cycles, it has caused a whole generation (or two) of people that have gone indoors and become disconnected from nature. We have an unexpected exponential rise in ADD and ADHD type symptoms as well as diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, coupled with cancers and other chronic illnesses.” In his research of various medical studies, he finds an undeniable demonstration of reduced symptoms of ADHD and other conditions in children and adults who spend time in natural settings.
The benefits of “green exercise” show that people who take their exercise outdoors feel significantly less depressed, less tense, less angry, and less fatigued than those who stay indoors. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and a devaluing of ecological and social interaction. However, we believe these studies also show that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed.
Japanese researchers conducted a study of “shinrin-yoku” which translates roughly to “forest bathing” – the act of immersing oneself in the energy of a forest or woods. Simply walking in the woods and breathing in – both metaphorically and actually – the healing aromas and energies of the trees and foliage, taking in the essence of the forest can actually improve your health with more than just exercise. It was found that the protective odor called phytoncides exuded by the trees contained numerous healing properties. The research showed that when people took time (as little as 30 minutes a day) to sit in the presence of trees and plants their health physically improved with increased circulation, lowered blood pressure and cortisol levels, and astonishingly an increase in white blood cell count. Some of the subjects were undergoing serious medical treatments such as chemotherapy and it was found that when they were wheelchaired into a greenhouse or down a path in the garden their bodies took to the treatments better seeming to accelerate the healing process and reducing their depression and anxiety.
The use of the outdoors for well-being is becoming increasingly popular as we discover more and more the benefits of natural medicine, clean forest air and our interaction with our environment. Everyday more studies are released on the benefits ecotherapy has on children, teenagers and adults, relieving stress, decreasing ADD, ADHD and various mental health illnesses as well as helping our bodies fight illness and dis-ease.
Read more below to see some of the ways forests can help promote human wellness.
- Reduces Depression and Stress – spending time in green spaces with trees reduces stress and brain fatigue.
- Improves Mental Health – utilizing the senses to distinguish natural sounds and smells encourages the brain to use cognition and reasoning and improves mental clarity. Nature helps us disconnect from the stressors of our everyday lives and facilitates spiritual connections by engaging our senses and quieting our minds.
- Improves Physical Health – contact with nature can assist with decreasing blood pressure, encouraging healthy white blood cell production, and reducing obesity conditions. Post-surgical patients with window views of nature have shorter hospital stays, receive fewer negative evaluations and take fewer pain medications than patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick wall.
- Increases Confidence and Social Skills – children that participate in nature activities demonstrate increased confidence, social skills, fine motor skills, communication, motivation, problem-solving and adaptability.
- Increases Energy and Reduces Fatigue – adults that take 15-20 minute walks or a short stint in the garden show increased energy and cite reduced fatigue and stress.
- Lowers Blood Pressure and Cortisol Levels – participants that spent time walking through a garden or even sitting outdoors reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels faster than participants that spent their days indoors.
- Improves Attention – The effect of walking through a park is equal to the peak effect of two typical ADD/ADHD medications. Also, students with natural views from their windows are more likely to score higher on tests.
- Sunlight – provides us with Vitamin D an important vitamin linked to cognitive function. Studies show exposure to sunlight boosts your mood and reduces feelings of anxiety and restlessness.
- Improves Neighborhoods – in communities with trees, residents report a stronger feeling of unity and cohesion with neighbors, feel safer and like where they are living more than residents with less trees around them. Outdoor spaces with natural landscapes have less graffiti, vandalism and littering than spaces without any greenery.
- Which leads us to #10: Reduces Violence – trees and natural landscapes in public housing areas reduces domestic aggression and violence as much as 25% as those without.
Abstracts to many of these studies, often linked to the original research, can be found at the Children & Nature Networks Online Research Library. The Children & Nature Network was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working to reconnect children with nature.
Richard Louv, Author of “The International Bestseller Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” http://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/
American Forests is creating healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. See more at www.americanforests.org.