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Natural Nurturing - Nature and Wellbeing

Emma Nord explores the positive impacts the natural world has on our mental and physical health. 


For many Universities, the exam season this spring has been accompanied by the concept of “mental health walks” where students take a break from studying and go for a stroll outside in nature. This all brings an old saying to mind, stating that the fundamental factors for human wellbeing are music and nature and that they both are providing ultimate harmony for a person. Strolling in nature to find clarity and peace is often an advice to stressed people and instrumental music by the fireplace sets the mood for a cosy evening. While there are many interesting reasons for why music can enhance our psychological health, this article will have a look into how nature can be beneficial for our wellbeing. 


Picture showing a small river surrounded by multiple flowers. Image Credits: Emma Nord.


A study focused on young people has established that time spent outdoors is positively correlated with physical activity. Results showed that time outside increased cardiorespiratory fitness levels as well as lowering sedentary behaviour. People included in the study who reportedly spend more time outdoors were all more likely to achieve the recommended time spent being active. All in all, this study is a striking example of the importance of time outside for health, and it seems that spending time outside improves your fitness, even unintentionally.


There are important factors for increasing physical activity in the urban environment and to advocate this for policymakers. There seems to be a relationship between our visual impressions of our surroundings and our running/jogging behaviour. We seem to be more likely to exercise outdoors if we can see green spaces, clearly marked pathways and an overall openness. Apart from physical improvement, being outside and engaging in activities such as community gardening is effective for mental health. Studies focusing on Nature-Based Interventions for mental and physical health show that communal gardening, nature therapy and green exercise can all significantly improve mental wellbeing and lower our stress levels significantly, as well as giving an opportunity to engage with others. 


It is not only the terrestrial environment that is linked to increased mental wellbeing. Blue spaces where water is the prominent factor are described by many struggling with both depression and anxiety to be a place to reset the mind. This was attributed to the water having undemanding characteristics, a clear distinction from the otherwise stressful society. Key elements for the calmness have been said to be the soothing soundscape and visual landscape. 

Seeing blue or green infrastructure and areas in urban environments are also reportedly improving many people’s wellbeing and good ecological quality has been shown to be increasing these impacts. This provides yet another reason to strive for more green spaces and include and manage these in cities. 


Picture showing a branch with pink flowers. Image Credits: Emma Nord.  


The outdoors can also act as a social arena to meet others. Now that spring and summer are approaching there are many activities and reasons to meet up outside. Picnics, walks in the park and swimming in the ocean are just a few of them. Even in less sunny months, try to continue getting outdoors even when the coldness in autumn and winter comes - remember the positive side-effects to your overall health! To find green spaces near you, a recommendation is to have a look at apps like, All trails that provide examples of trails to walk based on your location. This can give you ideas for new outdoor excursions and may also allow you to rediscover your area. 

 


Picture showing two people walking across a field. Image Credits: Emma Nord.


There seems to be many reasons for the sentiment that nature is one of the key factors for human harmony. Calming visual sceneries, improved mental and physical health… Nature is indeed a place for natural nurturing, providing a reason to relish in the positive effects from being outdoors and enjoying the wonders of the natural world. Hope you will have a lovely time out there!



About the Author: Emma Nord is a postgraduate student at the University of York, doing a MSc in Environmental Science and Management. Her interests are nature conservation, biological ecosystems and nature based solutions. When she is not reading or writing she enjoys going for long hikes, ballroom dancing and wild swimming.

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