“If the last 2 million years of our species’ history were scaled to a single human lifetime of 70 years, then the first humans would not have begun settling into villages until 8 months after the 69th birthday”
– Howard Frumkin.
The positive benefits of nature have been known for thousands of years. However, possibly due to many of the negative images around the environment, such as threats of climate change, pollution, toxins, hazards etc, it is of little surprise that peope are using the natural environment less and less. With 86% of the New Zealand population being urban, New Zealand is considered a highly urbanized country. Ecopsychologists claim that many psychological and physical afflictions of today are due to the loss of contact with nature.
How nature effects an individual is a rather hard concept to measure. However, many studies have shown effects on both biomarkers, such as cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and self reports of stress and levels of fatigue. Nature is particularly beneficial for restoration of mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety or depression. Studies have found that walks in nature can have a positive effect on negative thoughts. One particular study found that regular use of nature for physical activity lowered the risk of poor mental health by half!
As well as improving mood and self-esteem, studies have also found that interaction with nature enhances cognitive function and working memory span.
With the number of people dealing with stress, depression and anxiety increasing theburden of disease and unipolar depression ranking at first place in counties like New Zealand, finding a good treatment is paramount. Current orthodox treatment for mental illnesses includes pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and advice on staying active.
Both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy are costly and many studies show variable effectiveness. Trials on the effectiveness of antidepressants have difficulty demonstrating effectiveness superior to placebo and 50% of trials fail to demonstrate a difference between drug use and placebo.
Staying active is being promoted by doctors, but while physical activity is effective on mental health, physical activity in nature has shown to have positive effects on mental well-being not seen in indoor physical activity.
With health costs rising, finding ways to reducing mental health issues via cost-effective means is not only important to the individual but also to the nation. Interacting with nature is, generally, easily accessible, simple and affordable!
There are several beneficial ways one can interact with nature, including:
a.) viewing nature, such as a scene or from a window.
b.) presence of nature, such as having a garden or park nearby.
c.) active participation and involvement in nature, such as gardening, hiking or biking.
While all ways are beneficial, active involvement brings the most health benefits. Using nature to improve our health is effective and cheap. Therefore, not only should we be thinking about increasing our own use of nature to improve our own mental health, but also protecting our parks and lands and/or creating more positive natural environments to support those around us.
Our Naturopath Claire is available at City Osteopaths on Fridays to help with your health issues such as stress and digestive complaints, using evidence based naturopathy, herbal medicine and nutrition.
Claire Williams, BNat, BA, NZSN Ph: 021 207 0321 E: firstname.lastname@example.org