According to the American Psychological Association, there are many mental health benefits from being outdoors in nature.

“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada.

Cognitive Benefits

Spending time in nature helps to de-stress our busy brains.  Research have shown that interacting with nature has cognitive benefits.  Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.  One hypothesis proposes that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels.  Another idea holds that nature replenishes one’s cognitive resources, restoring the ability to concentrate and pay attention.  Findings show that just a few moments of green can perk up a tired brain.  And even the sounds of nature may be recuperative!

Nature and Happiness

There is evidence that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.  Spending time in nature has cognitive benefits, but it also has emotional and existential benefits

Experience vs. Connection

A study in the United Kingdom found that people who had spent at least two recreational hours in nature during the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being.  A connectedness to nature seems to benefit mood and mental health.

Green and Blue Spaces

It’s clear that getting outside is good for us. Now, scientists are working to determine what types of environments are best.  Mathew White, PhD, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter in England, says much attention has gone to green spaces, but he has studied a variety of marine and freshwater environments and found these blue spaces are also good for well-being (Gascon, M., et al., International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Vol. 220, No. 8, 2017.) In fact, he says, they may even be slightly more restorative than green spaces.

Key Points

  1. Spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being.
  2. Feeling connected to nature can produce similar benefits to well-being, regardless of how much time one spends outdoors.
  3. Both green spaces and blue spaces (aquatic environments) produce well-being benefits. More remote and biodiverse spaces may be particularly helpful, though even urban parks and trees can lead to positive outcomes.

Source:  American Psychological Association (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature)