Professional Practice
Adult: Well-Being

Health Benefits of Nature Header

Feeling down? Go outside. A recent study found just 5 minutes of activity in natural areas resulted in improvements in self-esteem and mood. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010

In 1984, E.O. Wilson introduced and popularized the term Biophilia. He defined this idea as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” Study after study has found that people have a very strong preference for natural settings over man-made environments and these preferences cross cultures. This suggests, along with Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, that our preferences are an evolutionary response.

We universally prefer savannas, forests that have little underbrush, and landscapes with clean, rushing water. We respond strongly to the concepts of prospect and refuge in design – we like the ability to survey our surroundings and also small, comfortable spaces that make us feel safe.

We have strong preferences for the natural over the built, with the attractiveness of the man-made increased by the introduction of natural features.

We like flowers because our ancestral brains know that fruit and seeds come later. In short, we’re wired evolutionarily to prefer nature.

How Nature Helps

There is an intuitive link between nature and well-being. Office workers don’t poster their cubicles with pictures of gorgeous natural scenes for no reason. Parks and trees, gardens and campgrounds make us more at ease. In general, the more time we spend outside in nature, the better our mental health will be.

The result of multiple research studies out of the United Kingdom have shown that spending time outside has known and measurable benefits to our mental health and well-being. Spending even a few minutes outside in a park has both short and long term positive mental health benefits.

Research  

Explore More Resources:
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"Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas," Environmental Science and Technology, 2014

"What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis," Environmental Science and Technology, 2010

Parks and Other Green Environments: Essential Components of a Healthy Human Habitat, National Recreation and Park Association, Frances E. (Ming) Kuo, 2010

Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being Through Urban Landscapes,”
USDA Forest Service, 2009

Vitamin G: Green Environments, Healthy Environments,” Utrecht University, 2008
 
"Would you be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area? A Fixed-Effects Analysis of Panel Data," Psychological Science, 2012

"Gardening for the Mental Well-Being of Homeless Women," Journal of Holistic Nursing, 2013

"Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review,"  Environmental Science & Technology, 2012

Social Contacts as a Possible Mechanism Behind The Relation Between Green Space and Health,” Health and Place, 2010

What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis,” Environmental Sciences and Technology, 2010“

Associations of Neighbourhood Greenness with Physical and Mental Health: Do Walking, Social Coherence and Local Social Interaction Explain the Relationships?” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2008

The Biophilia Hypothesis, Kellert and Wilson, 1993

"Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences,” Environment and Behavior, 1991

The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development, Relf, 1990

Biophilia, Wilson, 1984
 

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ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Honor Award, Crosswaters Ecolodge, Nankun Mountain Reserve, Guangdong Province, China, EDSA, Inc. / Image credit: EDSA and Hitesh Mehta

Resources 

The Health Benefits of Parks – The Trust for Public Land 
 
European Centre for Environment & Human Health

Human Health & Well-Being  Sustainable Sites Initiative

 "Does Looking at Nature Make People Nice?" The Dirt blog 

"Trees are a Matter of Life and Death," The Dirt blog

 "Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning"  Outside Magazine

Green Cities: Good Health  University of Washington

Organizations

EO Wilson Center

Open Spaces Sacred Places

Therapeutic Landscape Network

International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine

Role of the Landscape Architect

Landscape architects have long understood the need to integrate parks into cities, Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park being one of the most prime examples. Naturalist parks in the middle of cities provide city dwellers with some of the nature connections they’re missing in their urban lives.

Recognizing the desire of people to want to get away to even more remote destinations, landscape architects also design retreats that provide opportunities to immerse in the natural world, while keeping the environmental impact low.

Case Studies

Central Park, New York, New York, Frederick Law Olmsted

Theater Group Retreat, Western Maine, Landworks Studio

Cleveland's Public Garden, Cleveland, Ohio, URS Corporation

Hunts Point Landing, Bronx, New York, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

 


 

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