I recently visited a friend who lives in the country.
Her home is surrounded by fields so picturesque and green they should have a Pantone colour dedicated to them. There were little wild bunnies hopping around in the garden. It felt like something from a children’s story book. I instantly felt a calm wash over me and immediately started to dread returning to the city.
It got me thinking – am I missing out on something by living in the concrete jungle? It’s well known nature can reduce stress, but did you know that it can also improve cognitive function? In fact, a little bit of green has multiple benefits to our physical and mental health.
I spend far too much time indoors and I am not alone. On average, people spend 90% of their time inside buildings. As a child, I would always be itching to go outside, snapping on my rollerblades and rushing out the front door whenever I had the chance. Now, between home and the office I’m almost always inside. Spending time outdoors takes planning. I have to organise a weekend hike or book a holiday in a scenic location.
But perhaps I should make more time outdoors a higher priority. Being in nature has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. The vitamin D absorbed from being outdoors also has multifaceted health benefits, such as building up resistance to disease.
Even looking at nature can have benefits. A hospital in Paoli, Pennsylvania found that patients with rooms looking over a courtyard full of trees recovered faster than those who had a view of a brick wall. Patients exposed to the natural view also reported lower levels of stress and less incidences of depression.
Being in nature has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies.
From walking barefoot to meditating in the mountains, a strong spiritual connection to the earth has long been used to promote wellbeing in many different cultures. The Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, or ‘shinrin- yoku’, which involves surrounding yourself in the presence of trees. The practise has been proven to help lower blood pressure and reduce heart-rates.
Nature also has a profound effect on our brains. An experiment from the 1980s found people who were exposed to natural environments (such as a park), performed better on tests related to memory, attention and cognition. Interestingly, participants who simply looked at indoor plants or photographs of nature also showed improved performance.
A study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that interrupting a demanding task with a 40 second break to look at nature (an image of a green field, for example), improved performance on tasks and the ability to focus.
Plants in the workplace reduce stress
All this research has led to companies think about how they can improve the work environment. Buildings are now being designed to bring the outdoors, inside. The CapitaGreen building in Singapore’s business district has more than half of its exterior covered in foliage, making it stand out for all the right reasons. Recently, Facebook planted a massive nine-acre green roof at its office Menlo Park, giving employees a green space to take a break in.
Get more green into your life and stress less
You probably don’t need to pack up your life and move out of the city. There are lots of little changes you can make to get a touch more nature in your life.
Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money on the next miracle stress relief treatment or brain boosting fad:
- try taking a stroll through a park during your lunch break
- move your work desk so you get a view of the outdoor, even better, grab your laptop and set up your workspace outside
- add indoor plants or succulents to your workplace and in your home won’t cost a bundle, and the change in scenery will be a breath of fresh air – literally
- you can even change the background image on your mobile phone home-screen to a picture of some rolling green fields.
It may just be a small thing, but your mind and body will thank you for it.