We all know that nature provides many critical parts of our life—food to eat, sources of energy (from fossil fuels, wind, solar, geothermal), and key natural resources to build the products that help society and those within it (e.g., minerals for computer chips, elements to create batteries).
We also believe that spending time in natures helps us to feel better. But, does science support this “softer” view of nature? In fact, there are many studies to examine this relationship and a recent article summarizes much of what studies have shown (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abn8042, “Linking the nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature relations and human well-being through cultural ecosystem services”).
In total, the authors reviewed 301 studies from 62 countries. Some studies measured physiologic factors like heart rate and blood pressure (e.g., did being in nature reduce these measures)? Others examined measures of wellbeing (e.g., life satisfaction or feeling connected).
2. Four ways that nature can nurture
The actual nature activities themselves: walking, swimming, or mountain biking provide opportunities to exercise, to breath fresh air, and be away from the usual stresses of life. All good ways to get some exercise and “recharge” your batteries.
The “cultural” aspects of being in nature: being in nature can nurture you by being with others as you walk or play outdoor games. Without life’s distractions, connectedness can grow. Just being with family and friends helps to restore needed internal balance.
Opportunities to learn: enjoying nature leads to opportunities to learn about trees, birds, or rocks, or the history or geography of the land. For many, just the chance to learn new concepts or new facts can provide great fulfillment. One does not require a tour guide to learn. Bird books or picture pamphlets of snakes can be the educator that you need.
Being in nature can enhance spiritual fulfillment: seeing the stars, the streams, and the myriad of flora and fauna raises awareness of life beyond oneself. For many, that awareness of life’s beauty and complexity leads to spiritual fulfillment.
3. How might nature “nurture”?
We strive to live longer and live happier. The studies reviewed in this article did examine the impact of being in nature on risk factors for heart disease (e.g., blood pressure) and those in nature had greater reductions in measured stress than those who did not. Nature can help to improve those risk factors and enable one to potentially live longer.
The other aspects discussed above directly relate to living happier. Much research shows that loneliness is strongly associated with depression and poor life satisfaction. Being in nature with others can improve how we feel by feeling more connected.
Life satisfaction also relates to personal growth. Learning by being in nature or feeling more spiritual for that experience can be additional ways that nature can nurture.
4. Where does the science take us?
This field is young and many of the studies did not use rigorous research techniques. In spite of those limitations, there are reasons to believe that the early findings will hold up to later assessment.
Find opportunities to walk in a park, sit by a stream or lake, or hug a tree in your back yard. Or join us at Madrone Springs Ranch for a real chance to unwind, nurture in nature, and recharge those all important energy/emotional/spiritual batteries inside of us. Science shows is its importance. And, Dr. Bobby agrees!
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