ConnectNature as Medicine

Nature as Medicine

By: Michael Scholz

There’s a strong correlation between exposure to nature and positive health outcomes. But how much nature do you need to lower your stress level, lift your spirits and protect your health? 

And what’s the definition of  “nature” anyway? 

Measuring a dose of nature is decidedly more difficult than measuring a dose of cough syrup or taking an Aspirin. Important factors include the length of time you spend outdoors in a natural setting, how you experience the world of nature, and what is referred to as “intensity,” or how much nature you’re experiencing. Maybe you’re gazing at a single tree or you might instead be hiking in a mighty forest. It’s a wide spectrum, but researchers are now beginning to close in on some “minimum nature requirements” for healthy living.

Let’s start with the smallest, quickest dose. According to Finnish researcher Kalevi Korpela, “Within 200 milliseconds people react positively when they see images of nature.” That seems like a worthwhile investment of time! It takes only a moment but you’ll notice that your pulse rate will begin to lower as your mood begins to shift to a more positive place. The good news, according to Korpela, is if you don’t have a view of the mountains, a park or even a backyard to gaze at, you can still tap into this well of positivity by simply viewing images of nature.

There may be additional benefits from taking in those views over time rather than just in an instant. Evidence shows that viewing nature scenes has a cumulative effect on reducing mental fatigue throughout your day. Even though the Korpela study focused on viewing real nature, given what it revealed about natural images, it seems worth pausing throughout the day to absorb some positivity from whatever source of nature you can find, real or not. 

And what if you have a little more time to spend in nature? A recent study found that benefits became apparent as soon as subjects spent more than 120 minutes per week and plateaued somewhere between 200 and 300 minutes per week. If you do the math, that works out to as little as 17 minutes per day. The research also showed that it doesn’t matter how you spend the time you spend in nature – a very interesting point.

What type of nature experience is best? Research suggests that: “Some people may prefer long walks in locations further from home, while others prefer regular shorter visits to parks in the local area.” That seems to leave us with a wide range of choice!  The important finding in this study really seems to be the importance of just getting outside where you can experience nature.

What if you’re unable to get outdoors on a regular basis? If a crushing shift work schedule or a lack of access to nature areas near your home means you’re struggling simply to find a tree or a patch of grass, there are some great strategies for bringing the outdoors inside. Use live plants and flowers to turn your home into a natural oasis to help you rejuvenate. It’s widely recognized that plants help induce a positive frame of mind, which in turn helps enhance creativity, improves mental processing and allows big picture thinking. Just having some plants around your fire station can improve a team’s mood and performance. A second option is to use nature imagery – and there are hundreds of sources to choose from.

So…put your bare feet in the grass, skip a stone across a pond, or climb a trail to a new perspective. When you aren’t able to get outside, bring nature to you through pictures and sounds and care for living plants that you can touch and smell. It all adds up and it’s all important. Every day, get that vital dose of “Vitamin N.”

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