Nature and health: Why connecting with nature is good for us
On a recent trip to a jungle near Bangalore, I was taken aback by how refreshing and energizing it felt to be in the midst of so much greenery and beautiful wild life. I last remember feeling so wonderfully calm and joyously alive, while watching a sun set over a shimmering ocean. We all experience a oneness with nature whether such moments occur on a mountain top or terrace, or while contemplating the billions of stars in our universe or a solitary flower on our path. Yet, we don’t often stop to think about the importance of nature in our daily lives or the intimate connection between nature and health.
Traditional wisdom, spiritual texts, psychological research and our own experience show us that nature is healing. Research in the area of environmental psychology demonstrates that contact with the natural environment enhances positive emotional states, reduces stress levels, improves parasympathetic nervous system functioning, health, self esteem, self confidence and so on.
What is interesting is that studies on nature and health have shown that simply looking through a window upon a natural scene has beneficial effects! Hospital patients who have windows that overlook trees tend to recover faster than those that do not. Similarly, those who see videos or even a poster of natural landscapes report beneficial effects. The effects of being in actual natural surroundings are that much more!
In his book ‘Awakening to nature‘, Charles Cook, an authority on outdoor activities, talks about the importance of nature in our daily lives – how being more open to nature, inviting nature inside, living more naturally and getting outdoors more can contribute to our sense of meaning and purpose.
In a report on the outdoors, President Reagan describes the value of outdoors: “… A sunset, a rainbow, an ocean wave, a 500 year old tree are priceless commodities… The real value of outdoors lies in its vitality… the way it enhances our lives. When a sports program keeps a teenager away from drugs, when a neighbourhood park offers a friendly gathering place for older people, when families learn to appreciate each other on a camping trip, when a jogger adds years to his or her life, how do we place a price on it? The value is life itself. ”
Given the joys and beneficial effects of spending time in nature, we would think it is natural for us to seek out such experiences. However, often busy schedules could lead us to miss out on developing this very important relationship – a relationship with our natural environment.
Burns, G. W. (1998). Nature-guided therapy: Brief integrative strategies for health and well-being. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner Mazzel.
Cook, C. (2001). Awakening to nature: renewing your life by connecting with the natural world. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.