Nature’s Medicine: The Healing Effects of Being in Nature

“There are two places you need to go to often: The place that heals you and the place that inspires you”

How can spending time in nature help tap into our innate capacity for healing and  wellbeing?  According to a recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, simply watching good quality TV programs about nature can help increase moods and reduce negative feelings resulting from being alone.

The idea that spending time in nature can make you feel better and boost your mood is not only intuitive. Access to nature encourages physical activity says this study; resulting in positive health benefits. Adding to the multitudes of available evidence, this other study by a group of Harvard researchers shows that living near green spaces can boost life expectancy. People who have been suffering from stress, sickness, or a trauma can spend quiet contemplative time in gardens or taken to the mountains or woods to heal. But nature is not just wilderness. The benefits of nature can also be found in our communities’ parks and green spaces.

The Ancient Japanese Practice Of Forest bathing:

Japanese, who follow Shinto religion have a profound  connection with nature and recognize that trees can provide several health benefits. Forest bathing also known as  Shinrin-yoku is an immersive experience in a forest or green curated environment that supports healing. Healing here is used as a broad term and the health outcomes might mean different things to different people. In this context, healing does not mean cure. 

There are several Japanese studies specific to environment that are designed to assess the impact of Shinrin-Yoku. In this particular context of forest bathing, studies measuring the positive effect of walking through a forest or green environment seem to show an impact on lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress, and supporting the immune system.  The general idea behind forest bathing is to relax in the natural world. Studies have shown that participants who lived in city environments and engage in forest bathing are more rested and less inclined to stress than those who are not exposed to nature. 

When it comes to integrating this approach into a medical context, we can specifically look at Japan where forest bathing is being prescribed. Prescriptions suggest thirty minutes of forest walking or immersion, five days a week.  If walking is not possible, it is suggested to find other ways  to have access to nature.  Other countries such as Canada are starting to integrate that approach. There may be more research trials needed to codify and measure the impact or outcomes in clinical practice.  When prescribed,  forest bathing needs to be evaluated as having a real benefit on patient outcomes.  The video below further explains the concept of Shinrin-Yoku. 



Get out in Nature!

With research proving that nature is good for us and has both long and short term mental and physical health benefits, let’s look in detail at the real impacts:

  • Nature can diminish depression According to a study from the University of Michigan, nature walks are linked to enhanced mental health and positivity, as well as significantly lower levels of depression and feelings of stress. Had a particularly hard day? Grab a friend or your significant other for a post-work mood booster.
  • Nature can help you better focus Can’t decide where to go on your next weekend getaway? You might want to consider a trip to the countryside. According to a study published in Psychological Science, interacting with nature gives your brain a break from everyday overstimulation, which can have a restorative effect on your attention levels.
  • Nature can boost your immune system Fun fact: The latest get-healthy pill isn’t always found it in your medicine cabinet, it’s in your backyard. Researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found that women who spent six hours in the woods over the course of two days had an increase in virus and tumor fighting white blood cells, and the boost lasted at least seven days afterwards.

Spending time in nature can help with centering.   Develop a practice of spending time outside as much as possible. Find a time and the space during the day to explore the healing benefits of nature. 

Being outside is not always accessible to everyone.  In situations where being outdoors is strictly prohibited (immunocompromised patients) or for those who have to spend extended periods of time at home in isolation, guided imagery or watching nature from the comfort of their living room can be a short-term alternative to nature . There is one best way to increase connection to nature and it is by spending time outside in nature.



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