Go green! – Exploring the Joy Superpower of Being in Nature

I used to live in a very urban district where my window only had a view to the building on the other side of the street. Since I lived on the first floor, I could barely see the sky. Nowadays, my window has this beautiful view to lush green trees, I can see the clouds passing by and listen to the birds singing. If I want to go for a walk or a run, I don’t have to make an effort to find a green space. And just like that, I find myself a lot more calm and content. Why is this?

According to research, nature affects your mental health, cognitive capacities as well as your consumption choices. Here’s what science has to say about the superpower of being in nature.

Visit, relax, protect

“Restorative environments are environments that can help restore depleted attention resources or reduce emotional and psychophysiological stress” – Kort et al. (2006)

Nature can be used for restorative purposes. Hartig et al. (2003) examined the restorative effect of walking in a natural setting (vs. in an urban area) and sitting in a room with a tree-view (vs. sitting in a room with no nature view). They found that having a tree-view significantly declined the participants’ diastolic blood pressure. When it comes to walking in nature (vs. walking in an urban area), the nature reserve increased positive affect. No wonder I’m feeling more relaxed now than in my old appartment!

In addition to recharging your batteries, Martin et al. (2020) found that visiting nature at least once a week predicted pro-environmental behaviors at home, in addition to an enhanced well-being. Surprisingly, living in a green area only enhanced overall well-being: even watching nature documents is more useful when it comes to promoting environment-friendly habits.

However, when your primary focus is on recovering and not on adopting planet-friendly habits, staring at a screen isn’t enough. In their study, Kjellgren & Buhrkal (2010) measured the restorative effects of a virtual nature relaxation vs. a real nature relaxation. Those who conducted the relaxation in nature ranked higher in alerted state of consciousness and benefited from six positive consequences nature had on them (e.g. “Intensified sensory perception”, “A feeling of harmony and union with nature”, “Well-being and quality of life”). The nature-simulation group, on the contrary, experienced five types of consequences that were mostly negative or neutral (e.g. “Restlessness and anxiety” or “A longing to be in ‘real’ nature”).

Greener spaces for sharper minds

In one of her studies, Nancy Wells (2000) examined the impact of green housing areas on children’s cognitive functioning, especially attentional capacities. The study included 17 children of low-income families whose families participated in a housing programme where they were relocated. The results show that an increase in the naturalness impacted positively the cognitive functioning of the children. The greater the improvement in greeness, the greater the improvement in cognitive functioning: it was not thus the starting level of naturalness in itself that predicted enhanced cognitive capacities.

In addition to enhanced cognitive functions, a Dutch study found that the availability of green spaces is negatively correlated with any anxiety disorder. The negative correlation was found to be even stronger with blue spaces (water), except when it comes to substance abuse. No positive correlation was found between green spaces and decreased mood disorders. (De Vries et al. 2016)

What kinds of nature contacts do you have on a daily basis? Are you able to recharge your batteries in your neighbourhood? Share us your nature story down below or on social media with #joysuperpowers and tune in next Wednesday for our podcast as we dive into the world of forest bathing with Ben Page!

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