The Big Idea
Human beings are natural creatures too! – So it makes sense that reminding ourselves to re-connect with nature can bring us tangible benefits. It is no surprise then that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that improving and maintaining our connection with nature, especially by immersing ourselves in it, can calm us down and improve our sense of balance and wellbeing.
However, with our ever evolving technological lives we can be increasingly divorced from nature. Research is helping us to understand that this disconnect might be bringing deep and ongoing stress that we may not yet be aware of or fully recognise.
In 2050 estimates say that over 66% of the human population will live in cities – so this issue might be getting worse without some deliberate interventions.
The connection with nature to improve wellbeing has been known about for millennia. In Japan the practice of ‘forest bathing’ (shinrin yuko) is still practiced and prescribed by doctors to help calm nerves and improve wellbeing. Many of you will already appreciate the benefits of being outside for even 10 or 15 minutes a day can bring (see #Tip4). Combine this with knowing how important bringing moments into the present, to enjoy and appreciate them, is for gaining ‘control’ of our thoughts and to be more deliberate in our lives – then we have a powerful combo by combining nature with an intention to regularly engineer small moments of reflection and connection with nature. To deliberately focus and amplify their effects on us.
But does the ancient wisdom of ‘the call to the wild’ stack up with what we know about how our brains and bodies work? Let’s dig into the science to find out…
Got it…What’s the Science
This ‘call to the wild’ gets even more profound when you look more closely at the science. Research has shown that even just looking at a natural image or touching natural objects, like those made of wood, actual lowers our blood pressure. Research has shown that having pictures of nature, as well as real flowers and plants, in hospitals actually speeds patient recovery rates, with patients being discharged from hospital sooner. This was a bit counter intuitive as I believe the reason for this study was initially to work out if plants in hospitals was unhygienic.
And it’s not even just a recovery thing either. Russian fighter jet cockpits were actually painted green as this was known to help keep pilots calm. Today architects and interior designers, including offices of progressive creative organisations and companies such as those involved in new tech, are catching onto the power of plants ‘in the room’, some companies even rent plants for spaces and events for this reason.
It seems connecting with nature, and natural objects, regularly lowers the pressure on our cardiovascular systems – meaning we should live longer too.
We also know that attending to things brings them into our attention and so makes their ‘impact’ and presence more ‘felt’ through being in our consciousness. It also allows us to better control or steer what we want to see both in our conscious and unconscious mind. So deliberately focusing on nature, in particular, is going to bring physiological rewards that are beneficial for our sense of wellbeing. It might also spark or rekindle an interest in nature that could be anything from gardening, watching wildlife to painting landscapes. These together we know are going to activate our ‘wellbeing circuits’ that use dopamine and serotonin (5-HT).
And it doesn’t stop there!
When we go for a walk in nature we disturb phytoncides*, which are described as antimicrobial allelochemic** volatile organic compounds, from plants. Note: Big Word Watch! – Some scientific tongue-twisters there so Dr Iain has described them below! word-watch there so we have described them below!
These compounds are known to reduce inflammation and pathogens by raising the number of human natural killer cells. In other words, plants release chemicals that help us fight off infection and illness. It seems that repeated back to back daily exposure has the best positive influence on our body and brain – like going for a walk 2 days in a row. That said just 30 minutes in a park is also reported as being sufficient to have an positive affect here. This is particularly exciting as we now know that so many diseases and illnesses, including mental health states (like depression) as well as neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimers disease, include inflammation.
Together this gives credence to some of the tales of our experimental partners using things like sprigs of eucalyptus in the bathroom while they shower. As smell is such a primal and evocative sense with direct links to the brains limbic system this could be a big part of aromatherapy too. So all sorts of potential here for further habit stacking. Like Hannah (AKA @thecuctoussurgeon) below, what could you do to deliberately engineer small moments with nature?
Taken together this seem like another top tip that packs more punch than first meets the eye!
*Phytoncide: literally means “exterminated by the plant”, and was was coined in 1928 by Dr. Boris P. Tokin, a Russian biochemist from Leningrad University.”
** A chemical emitted by an organism of one species that influences the physiology or behaviour of an organism of a different species.
Watch our #Tip11 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With massive thanks again to Hannah AKA @thecactussurgeon for joining us on this Instagram Live and so generously sharing her stories, perspectives and wisdom in her use of making small moments part of her health recovery.
Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20074458/
Deliberately taking time to appreciate nature in a photograph – or even better to be out and about in nature, is incredibly beneficial to your body, brain and therefore also to your mind. It’s supported not just by ancient wisdom, but by modern science too and is really, really stackable as a habit. So what’s not to like or stop you doing more of it?!
Tales from our Test Partners
Dulcie is doing some team coaching with a senior leadership team who are actively trialling “walk and talk” as a way to have productive 121 meetings. The team are working together to make sure that they keep some of the good habits they developed in lockdown – like talking walks in nature in daylight hours. We will get their permission to keep you posted!
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