More and more researchers believe our disconnection from nature affects our health. The biophilia hypothesis, first put forward by Harvard University scientist Edward O. Wilson, argues humans are innately attracted to nature and that our tendency to affiliate with living things separate from ourselves is genetically based.
Research spanning 10 years confirms strong, positive changes in people responding to trees, landscapes, forest trails and scenic vistas, not to mention the love and connection we feel to animals. Even watching fish in an aquarium has been shown to have therapeutic effects.
But what are the real benefits of spending time in nature? As well as lowering blood pressure, reducing pain, strengthening our immune systems and reducing the risk of many types of cancers, nature has a profound effect on our mental health, too.
Depression levels plummet, we can focus better, think more creatively and feel far less stressed. In hospitals, studies have shown that even patients who have a view of a natural setting heal faster than those who don’t. One 10-year study of recovering gallbladder surgery patients compared those who faced a view of trees with those facing a brick wall – the patients looking out at nature went home sooner. Another study found prisoners with a view of farmland rather than a courtyard fell ill
25 per cent less often.
But for those of us who barely have time to leave our desks for lunch, let alone make it to the countryside for some fresh air, science has some good news.
Researchers from Vrje University Medical Centre in the Netherlands conducted an experiment to see if just looking at a photo of nature, could have similar health benefits to being outdoors.
46 participants were asked to look at two sets of photos, one showing beautiful green spaces and the other showing an interior built space. The images were shown to the students immediately following and preceding a particularly stressful period.
The results, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that simply staring at a beautiful photo of nature was far more restorative and worked well to assist the students in overcoming stress.
Need some inspiration? Try these beautiful images by Australian photographer William Patino.