A Little Bit of Green for Mental Health
I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’ —Sylvia Plath
Spending time in nature not only feels refreshing but is also excellent for mental health. If you have ever gone for a walk during your lunch break or savored a hot cup of coffee at a nearby park, you will know the feeling.
Dr. Peter Coventry from the University of York and colleagues agree. The researchers recently published a new study in SSM – Population Health that looks at the effects of nature-based interventions on mental health.
In this meta-analysis, Dr. Coventry and colleagues thoroughly screened thousands of data from 50 studies centering around outdoor activities and psycho-emotional health among community-based adult populations. According to the study findings, gardening, forest bathing, and exercising outdoors are all effective for improving mental health.
Digging in the dirt
The researchers suggest that purposefully engaging with nature provides many mental health benefits. In analyzing intervention studies for this review, Dr. Coventry and colleagues found that gardening with a group of people is significantly associated with feeling more connected to nature and wellbeing compared to gardening at home or not gardening at all.
Based on all of the information gathered from the nature-based intervention studies included in the review, the researchers suggest that activities like gardening can provide people with a sense of purpose and meaning. Sharing a meaningful experience with other friendly faces makes gardening an even more powerful tool for improving mental health.
Green exercise and forest bathing
Exercising outdoors is also associated with lower levels of stress and anxiety. According to the researchers, the restorative quality of being in green spaces can be partially attributed to attention restoration theory (ART). Developed by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan of Michigan University in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ART proposes that being in nature improves our ability to concentrate and ward off mental fatigue.
Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is also an effective way to improve emotional wellbeing. The term “forest bathing” emerged in Japan in the 1980s and drew attention to the various health benefits of nature. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that forest bathing improves mental health by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which in turn lowers stress.
All in all, Dr. Coventry and colleagues suggest that nature-based interventions offered for a duration of 8-12 weeks provide the most health benefits. According to the researchers, the optimal dose for spending time outdoors seems to be around 20-90 minutes.
There is no doubt that nature is good for us. If you are looking for ways to reduce anxiety and improve your mood, gardening or simply spending time at a nearby park might be all you need.
- 1. Coventry, P. A., Brown, J. V. E., Pervin, J., Brabyn, S., Pateman, R., et al. (2021). Nature-based outdoor activities for mental and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. SSM - Population Health, 16: 100934 DOI: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100934
- 2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/forest-bathing-nature-walk-health
- 3. https://positivepsychology.com/attention-restoration-theory/