A natural prescription to boost health and happiness

We are hardwired to spend time in our natural environment. It’s even got a name: biophilia, the concept that our connection to nature is a biologically driven need.

Who knew, for example, that our appreciation of flowers stems from the fact that in many plants, flowers signal the appearance of fruit, a necessary source of food for early humans.*

It’s no wonder, then, that for many people confined to their homes during the pandemic, being unable to sit in a garden, go for a walk or sit by a lake has been good their for mind, body and soul.

Being in nature boosts health

There are now hundreds of research studies that offer persuasive evidence showing the important benefits that spending time in the great outdoors has for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.*

Vancouver seniors were the focus of a 2015 University of Minnesota study that found the 161 participants felt physically better in green spaces and near water. They were more tranquil and at peace beside water. They found themselves more spiritually and more socially connected, especially in parks, where opportunities to talk with others were also readily available.*

Doctors are also beginning to give their patients “nature prescriptions,”* suggesting that chronic stress and anxiety—which some of us may be experiencing or did experience during the height of the pandemic—can be better managed by spending time in green and blue spaces. These can be gardens, walking trails, city parks and beside ponds, creeks, lakes or oceans.

Just two nature hours per week make you feel better

How much time do you need in nature to reap the benefits? Scientists have now quantified that, concluding that an accumulated two hours per week rewarded both older and younger people with self-reported better health and a greater sense of well-being than people who didn’t get out at all.*

You don’t even have to be outside to reap the benefits of being close to nature. A small 1984 study on post-surgical patients found that those who had a window view of a natural setting recovered faster and took fewer pain killers than those whose window faced a brick wall.*

Four ways to get in some green—and blue

Go for a walk

Even a short walk on a tree-lined street can boost your mood and help your mobility. Find a route you enjoy and notice the changes in growing things. Stop and enjoy the changing sky.

Hang a bird feeder outside your window

If you can’t get outside as much as you’d like, bring the outdoors in by hanging a bird feeder by your window. You may even want to get a book on birds to identify some new friends.

Plant seeds or flowers

Even indoor gardeners can still benefit from nature. Planting seeds has always been a symbol of hope and optimism for the future, both of which we need right now. All you require are a few small pots and a window or artificial light source to create an indoor garden.

Spend some time by water

Are you near a pond, river, stream, or lake? It doesn’t have to be a large body of water, even listening to the sound of trickling water has a calming effect on minds and bodies.*

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Psychology Today. “What is biophilia.” (Undated), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/biophilia

2. University of Rochester. “Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows.” (2010), online: http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3639

3. ScienceDirect. “Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults.” (2015), online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829215000672

4. Glamour magazine. “Spend More Time Outside—Doctor’s Orders.” (July 11, 2019), online: https://www.glamour.com/story/park-prescriptions-are-gaining-steam-as-a-mainstream-medical-treatment

5. The New York Times. “How Much Nature Is Enough? 120 Minutes a Week, Doctors Say.” (June 13, 2019), online: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/health/nature-outdoors-health.html

6. ResearchGate. “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery.” (May 1984), online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/17043718_View_Through_a_Window_May_Influence_Recovery_from_Surgery

7. LiveScience. “Why Does the Sound of Water Help You Sleep?” (Jan. 18, 2016), online: https://www.livescience.com/53403-why-sound-of-water-helps-you-sleep.html