KYC Walk

Interacting with nature can improve health and mood, study finds

Even a small amount of time makes a difference

The weather is becoming warming and it’s the perfect time to head outside and interact with nature.

While some may think that connecting with nature means  spending long hours outside, but a recent study by Stanford researchers found that even a small amount of time spent in a natural setting has positive health benefits.

Gregory Bratman, Gretchen Daily, Benjamin Levy and James Gross carried out the study of 60 participants, who took part in a series of psychological assessments before and after they completed a 50-minute walk in either a natural or urban environment.

They found that the individuals that walked in natural surroundings experienced benefits such as decreased anxiety.

Shawn Geniole, a student associate in the Department of Psychology at Brock University, said that some researchers have proposed that urban settings can be mentally exhausting.

“Experience with nature gives us a rest from this stimulation, allowing our mental or attention resources to recover,” Geniole said.

“This restoration of attention or mental resources is one proposed mechanism that may explain how people’s mood improves when they are surrounded by nature.”

Mallory Parks, the Camps and Community Programs Co-ordinator at the High Park Nature Centre said that being in nature has had a positive impact on her.

“Interacting with nature definitely makes me feel happier,” said Parks, who enjoys hiking and biking.

“Whenever I’m having a rough day, being outside always puts a smile on my face and calms my stress.”

Geniole said that some research suggests that simple changes in a person’s home or office can possibly provide partial benefits to an individual’s health.

“Even partial exposure to nature, such as simple visual exposure like window views of nature, photographs, or having plants in your office can improve health and mood as well,” Geniole said.

Geniole said that activities such as bird watching and wildlife photography can also help an individual to involve themselves with nature.

Mark Jeon, a resident in Toronto, said his mood improved after he began taking his dog to walk in parks rather than around the city.

“I would always have a reason to frown whenever I was walking him (dog) in the city,” Jeon said.

“There are cars and smokers and a bunch of other unpleasant things. But, in a park, it’s mostly birds or other animals. It’s refreshing and there’s nothing for me to be upset about.”

According to Jeon, knowing that nature can improve his health makes him want to spend more time outside, but because he doesn’t have the time, he’ll start by making simple changes in the spaces around him.

“It’s better to start small than to not start anywhere at all,” he said. “If having a plant can make me feel better and improve my health, then I’ll buy as many plants my office can fit.”