Nature Restores and Reduces Stress

Urban restoration–still nice.

There’s a book on my reading list called “The Nature Fix” right now, which delves into the science behind the health-benefits of being in nature. Perhaps after a while this spiel about the health benefits of nature gets old; I’ve always found however that learning about the research inspires me. This is also one of those topics that we all kind of know about but don’t all practice effectively. This will be a first in a serious of posts about the various health benefits of connecting to nature.

But I must emphasize, research is not necessary to understand health. As a species, we have understood how to be healthy for eons. It’s a fallacy to assume that the type of knowledge generated by evidence-based medicine and the likes is providing us with new information on health. I wonder how much research focuses on ailments that are largely caused by being disconnected from nature.

On another note, it’s unfortunate that being healthy can seem like a chore at times. Even going out into nature to be healthy can seem like a chore. Most people seem to go out in nature just because they want to, not because they want to be healthy. I don’t have a car right now, so I only make it to nature when I hitch a ride with friend (and I don’t make it a priority–actually, after I finish this post I am going to a park in the forest to continue writing), as I live in a city. This happens once in a while, but I should make it more regular, because being in nature is restorative, as I rediscovered from reading a paper titled “The Influence of Urban Natural and Built Environments on Physiological and Psychological Measures of Stress— A Pilot Study.”

The aim of this study was to determine if natural environments can reduce stress. Stress was measured by surveys (subjective stress scale [a score from 1-10], perceived stress scale, perceived restorativeness scale, and environmental identity scale)* and salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase levels before and after 20 minutes of exposure to different settings. There were four settings; there was a very natural setting in a forested nature reserve, a mostly natural setting (a tree-lined urban park), a mostly built setting (an urban plaza with some trees), and a very built setting (very little trees, mostly buildings).

This study used a four-arm cross over design. That means every participant went to each of the four settings. Here’s what happened:

  • In the mostly built setting, salivary alpha-amylase went UP.
  • In the very natural setting, salivary cortisol or amylase did not drop more than in the other settings, but participants perceived it as the most restorative and stress reducing on the perceived stress scale.

The results of this study reveal what many of us intuitively know, but I kind of like hearing it again. Although twenty minutes of being in a natural setting did not significantly reduce salivary alpha-amylase or cortisol levels (perhaps that takes longer than just 20 minutes), people felt much less stressed.

The reason why I’m talking about this study at all is because it shows how people feel, which I value more than objective measurements in many cases. People in this study, and you reading this, know that nature has a restorative and calming effect. Maybe it’s the air released by the thousands of trees around you, or the freshness of the land, away from city noises and pollution. There is likely a synergistic effect of the aromas released by plants, the clean air, the sounds, and the sights, on our nervous system.

Beyond this, being in nature teaches us the rhythms of nature, and the meaning of life, intuitive knowledge which I am slowly obtaining. Did you know that both Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman emphasized the importance of intuition? What are you doing to get connected to nature?

Ok, well that’s all I have to say here. I’m working on finishing up my free intuitive eating guide. I’m a perfectionist so finishing up a guide like that has taken some time. Feel free to sign up for my email newsletter (bottom of this post) to get notified when that is released!

*Scales, like the perceived stress scale (PSS) are questionnaire’s developed by researchers for consistent use in research. Imagine if researchers from all over the world measured stress differently in their research. This would make it hard to interpret the literature. When researchers include an item like the PSS in their work, the scientific community can interpret the findings better. They don’t just have to use the PSS, but adding it to other measurements of stress can strengthen findings. It’s not perfect, but it increases control, an important element in research methods.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *