Spending time in nature is good for you. New Research Explains Why

Spending time in nature is good for you. New research explains why

ISLAMABAD, (Online) – Numerous studies have revealed the positive effects that nature and the surrounding environment can have on mental and physical well-being. And now, new research published August 5 by the University of Tokyo suggests that the benefits of spending time in nature extend much further than previously thought.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of 301 academic papers, spanning 62 countries, on ‘cultural ecosystem services’ (CES) – also known as the ‘non-material or immaterial contributions’ to well-being that nature provides.

They identified 227 unique “pathways” that “connect a single CES to a single constituent of human well-being, [which is] much more than we initially thought,” explained study co-author Alexandros Gasparatos, PhD, associate professor of sustainability science at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI).

Nature and well-being: What is the link?

Gasparatos said connecting with nature provides opportunities for leisure and recreation, spiritual fulfillment, personal development, social relationships and aesthetic experiences.

Previous studies have shown that engaging in such opportunities can provide benefits such as better physical and mental health, social cohesion, and a sense of belonging.

Along with the 227 pathways identified by the University of Tokyo researchers, Gasparatos said he also determined 16 “individual mechanisms.”

Gasparatos described these mechanisms as the “global connection types through which more specific pathways are created”.

According to Gasparatos, previous studies had already pointed to some of the mechanisms, but the new research has identified 10 more. These include:

• Cohesive: The development of meaningful human relationships through interactions with nature.

• Formative: When elements such as mood, attitude, behaviors and values ​​change instantly or over a short period of time as a result of interaction with nature.

• Satisfaction: Feeling that your expectations and needs are satisfied through interactions with nature.

• Transcendent: Obtain benefits related to religious or spiritual values ​​after interacting with nature.

“Although the results are not necessarily surprising – at least to experts in our field – our study provides the first comprehensive effort to systematize them,” Gasparatos said. “In that sense, it provides a consistent information base and conceptual framework for how these links occur.”

When it comes to connecting with nature and the environment, these mechanisms can be stimulated in different ways. For example, a gentle walk in the forest, helping clean up a beach, exploring a new city, or looking for berries are all activities that stimulate a sense of connection.

The researchers also noted that a crossover of mechanisms can occur, further enhancing their impact. For example, caring for nature with a nature-based recreational activity, such as gardening, would encompass both cognitive and evolutionary mechanisms.

But stimulation doesn’t always have to come from the outside world.

“For centuries, temple builders around the world have known that their high ceilings propel us toward abstract thought and feelings of awe,” said Michal Matlon, site and architectural psychologist at LivingCore.

Well-being outcomes

Researchers like Gasparatos say it has been difficult to gauge the true effects of nature on well-being.

“While we have a good level of understanding that these links exist between non-material benefits and human well-being, we are still not very sure how these links occur in reality, or their actual effect on different aspects of human well-being,” Gasparatos said.

“This is largely because many existing studies have used different methodologies [and] metrics, or focused on individual benefits, ecosystems and geographic contexts.

Still, Gasparatos said he and his research team were able to better understand how the links occur in reality as well as their relative effects on different aspects of well-being.

The greatest benefits were seen in physical and mental health, with recreation, tourism and aesthetic value – all notable contributors to CES.

The important role of ESCs in fostering feelings of connection and belonging comes second, as well as establishing a sense of learning and capability.

According to Gasparatos, a variety of factors can influence a pathway’s impact on well-being.

“These include demographic background (i.e. gender, age, education, income), landscape characteristics (i.e. greenness, size and shape of landscape features), distance from the site, cultural and historical features and personal preferences, etc. “, explained Gasparatos.

Not all of nature’s effects were positive

Although they found a myriad of benefits in their analysis, the researchers also found less favorable outcomes between ESCs and human well-being – uncovering three negative mechanisms and some less beneficial pathways.

“Although we knew such links could exist, there are few studies that attempt to systematize this information,” Gasparatos said.

Two main factors have been recognized as potential negative contributors to well-being:

• Degradation or loss of an existing CES, such as an unmaintained park or real estate development.

• “Bad services”, such as the constant chirping of birds outside your window, which some might find annoying.

They also identified the existence of “trade-offs”, whereby some individuals benefit from a particular CES, but not others.

“For example, in an Indigenous community, the promotion of tourism activities can create recreational opportunities for visitors — with multiple benefits for well-being, such as physical health, learning, etc. — and economic benefits for some inhabitants (such as economic well-being). being),” Gasparatos said.

However, at the same time, he adds, the challenges of managing an influx of tourists “can compromise different components of the well-being of other inhabitants (i.e. spirituality).”

Still, it’s important to remember that the results of the study were largely positive.

“Overall, there is a higher prevalence in the literature of positive and large-scale impacts of SWC on human well-being, while there is a comparatively lower prevalence of smaller-scale or negative impacts “, wrote the authors of the study.

How nature benefits body and mind

We know being outdoors in a variety of environments can provide a host of benefits. But how exactly does nature impact our physiological and mental states?

“The benefits of nature are facilitated not only by visual stimuli, but also by its sounds, smells and all other senses,” Matlon said.

According to environmental psychologist Lee Chambers, “studies have shown that we may have a physiological response to being in natural environments, by reducing our heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.”

“There may also be a level of psychological restoration, with lower cortisol, improved focus and a deeper sense of connection,” Chambers added.

As a result of these effects, participants in previous research studies have reported benefits, including:

• lower stress levels Trusted source

• reduction of anxiety and depression

• improved self-esteem

• renewed confidence

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