Humans have long perceived there to be a connection between health and exposure to nature. For centuries, parks and other green spaces have been interwoven into cities to provide spaces for people to relax and recharge. Even as far back as the 16th century, German physician Paracelsus said, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” However, until recently, there has been little known about the actual mechanisms in nature that produce the positive physiological and psychological benefits that contribute to health and well-being. Today, physicians and researchers have a renewed interest in this relationship and are studying the phenomenon at a greater depth in order to maximize their potential to help patients.
The Beneficial Link Between Health and Nature
Thanks to researchers, scholars, and practitioners that study the topic, we now know that nature can reduce stress, soothe mental health conditions, and combat obesity, according to research compiled by Texas Parks and Wildlife, Children and Nature, and the National Wildlife Federation. The American Public Health Association agrees: “People of all ages and abilities enjoy higher levels of health and well-being when they have nature nearby in parks, gardens, greenways, naturalized schoolyards and playgrounds, and natural landscaping around homes and workplaces. Access to nature has been related to lower levels of mortality and illness, higher levels of outdoor physical activity, restoration from stress, a greater sense of well-being, and greater social capital.”
We also know that early play in nature contributes to the capacity for creativity, problem solving, and emotional and intellectual development. However, urbanization, combined with our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, make us less likely to experience nature in our daily lives. For example, children today spend half as much time outdoors as children did 20 years ago; yet they spend nearly 8 hours per day using entertainment media. This has a significant impact on our state’s growing obesity rate – now the 5th highest in the nation for high school students. In fact, today’s children may be the first generation with life expectancies shorter than their parents.
Texan by Nature is helping Texans understand how important the conservation of our natural environment is to our prosperity and quality of life. But now we know that the natural world doesn’t just contribute to our economy and our strong identity as Texans, it is also essential to our mental and physical health. Learn more about the connection between health and nature by checking out some of the most innovative research being done on the topic today.
6 Health and Nature Research Highlights
Finding #1: There are many pathways through which nature can improve our health, which include improved air quality, increased physical activity, more social cohesion, and stress reduction. Learn more: Nature and Health (Research by Howard Frumkin, Terry Hartig, Richard Mitchell, Sjerp De Vries)
Finding #2: Spending 20 to 30 minutes a day in nature can significantly reduce stress levels by producing a drop in cortisol (“the stress hormone”) by nearly 2 times greater than in people who spend no time in nature. Learn more: Urban Nature Experiences Result in Lowered Levels of the Stress Hormone, Cortisol (Research by MaryCarol Hunter)
Finding #3: Nature can also potentially reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing stress levels. Learn more: Signs of Stress in the Brain May Signal Future Heart Trouble (Research by Ahmed Tawakol, et al)
Finding #4: Compared to urban experience, nature experience leads to significant decreases in anxiety and improvement in mental health. Learn more: The Benefits of Nature Experience: Improved Affect and Cognition (Research by Gregory Bratman, Gretchen C. Daily, Benjamin J. Levy, James J. Gross)
Finding #5: Outdoor activity and time in nature can be used to help treat returning war veterans with symptoms of posttraumatic stress injury (PTSI) and physical health problems. Learn more: The Subtleties of Posttraumatic Stress Injuries and Physical Health Problems: A Call to Action for America’s Returning Warriors through the use of novel treatments and exposure to outdoor activity (Research by COL Jeffrey Yarvis)
Finding #6: Preservation of nature in urban environments produces tangible benefits, including water and air purification, which directly impact the quality of human health. Learn more: Green, Clean, and Dollar Smart (Research by Lynn Scarlett)
Health and Nature Symposium and Webinar – Coming Soon!
Because the connection between health and nature is such an important topic, Texan by Nature is working with Houston Methodist Hospital to host a symposium exploring the connection between health and nature. Top experts from the fields of medicine, research, public policy, and business will convene to share knowledge on the topic, and Texan by Nature will be there to present our work and take notes! Stay tuned to the Texan by Nature blog for more information on this exciting event and the on-demand webinar you can view soon after. In the meantime, get outside and soak up some nature!