You pop a probiotic every morning for gut health, sip a Turmeric latte to ease inflammation and diligently take magnesium at night to ease fatigued muscles, but are you getting enough Vitamin N? New research suggests that Nature is key to profound mind-body changes but chances are, like many, you’re deficient in the great outdoors. According to statistics from The Centre For Urban Design and Mental Health
, depression and anxiety rates are 40% and 20% higher in cities, respectively. And, with urban areas expected to house two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050 (according to the UN) could running for the hills, quite literally, be the solution to better mental health?
Ecotherapy, as in connecting to nature to aid wellbeing, isn’t a new idea. ‘Green Prescriptions’ (a health professional’s written advice to a patient to be physically active, such as going for a walk or a jog to reconnect with the outdoors a certain amount of times a week) have long been the norm in New Zealand and Australia, where this form of therapy has been nationalised since 1998. It also happens to be around the same time Japanese ‘forest bathing’ became recognised globally (taking leisurely walks in the forest, see more below) and the Norwegian expression ‘friluftsliv’ was first coined – meaning “open-air living”. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that these countries top the rankings as the world’s happiest places to live.
However, until recently, strong scientific data which backed up the anecdotal evidence to support nature as a positive influence on our mental health was sparse. Now, mounting research suggests there are considerable health benefits to being immersed in natural green spaces. A new Stanford-led study showed that those who walked in a natural area for 90 minutes showed less activity in the region of the brain associated with depression than those who walked through a city or other urban area for the same amount of time. Another US study found that hospital patients with tree views from their windows were discharged a day earlier than those with rooms that faced walls. And, when an extra ten trees on a Toronto city block were planted in 2015, it provided health benefits to residents equivalent to a $10,000 increase in annual income, or being seven years younger. So, from lowering levels of depression, anxiety and blood pressure, to lessening stress and improving the immune system, here’s how to embrace the outdoors and reap the benefits….