May 16, 2019 08:44 PM EDT
Taking a walk outside, spending an afternoon in a public park and even looking at beautiful pictures can make us feel good. It is beneficial to have time outside in natural environments. Being inside for a long time can make us feel unnatural and it can even increase our desire to get outside. Biologist E.O Wilson make a theory called biophilia hypothesis, where he stated that we have an innate relationship to nature.
Humans evolved in an open, natural environment and removing us from the environment could have a negative effect on our health. The work on this topic started in the 1980s and it was done by Robert Ulrich, who was a professor at Texas A&M University. His work was based on surgery patients who had a view of trees out of their window and he compared them to those who had no view at all. Those with the natural view was said to report less pain and they spent less time in the hospital.
Since then, a lot of studies have shown a decrease in pain both through looking at nature videos and pictures and viewing natural scenes. Other studies have looked at the effect of a patient's exposure to daylight and they found that they experienced less pain, stress, and use of pain medications versus patients who do not have exposure to natural light. There is also preliminary evidence that hospital gardens can alleviate stress in both the patients and their families.
People have been examining the healing powers of nature, from forest bathing in Japan to the 30 Days Wild campaign in the United Kingdom. Walking is a well-established health-promoting behavior and studies are now examining if walking in natural environments is more beneficial than indoors or in urban environments. This study has shown positive effects for improved attention, mental health, blood pressure, and heart rate and even the mood.
Programs across the United States have been made to expose military veterans to natural spaces to fight symptoms of PTSD. In children, playgrounds with greenspace have increased the physical activity and decreased the sedentary time and the fight between children has decreased.
Despite the need for more research, the need for more nature exposure is more important. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on average, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. A study in the United Kingdom showed that children spend only half of their time outdoors.
Doctors in Scotland are now giving Nature Prescriptions to their patients. An educational leaflet that they handout describes numerous monthly activities including taking a dog for a walk, following a bumblebee and touching the ocean. In the United States, the Park Rx America program has been working to connect the available outdoor public spaces to physicians to have them prescribe nature therapy.
With this evidence and the recent study that was released about nature therapy, better health is literally just a walk in the park.
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