At the same time as more and more of us move to the cities, research is showing that humans respond positively to the shapes, colours and landscapes of natural surroundings and negatively to urban ones.
As nature is heavily involved in the balance of our mental health, this leaves us with a problem. The benefits we gain from being within and around it are being lost to us as we squeeze into ever growing urban hubs. But we can reverse this change, through good design of our buildings, spaces and cities.
Five ways it has been shown that nature can improve our mental state:
1. In our spare time:
Walking through woods lowers our heart rates by the same amount as a hug or stroking our pets. A 20 minute woodland walk has even been shown to make us more considerate and generous to others.
2. In hospitals:
Patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees heal a day faster, are discharged a day earlier than those who don’t. They also needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.
3. At school:
Children in classrooms with a view of trees and a natural landscape can concentrate for significantly longer than students without a view of nature.
4. At work:
Office workers with green views from their workstations were more satisfied at work and had more patience, less frustration, increased enthusiasm for work, and fewer health problems than those with bare walls and no plant life to see.
5. In prisons:
In a US study in a correctional Institution, some prisoners in solitary confinement were shown moving images of nature such as streams, tropical beaches or forests, while some were not. Those prisoners sent to solitary confinement with no access to these images recorded more outbursts, whereas those able to see the images displayed calmer, more stable behaviour.
6. In our public spaces:
Access to green space has been associated with less brain ageing. The decline in cognitive score after ten years, in 60,000 Britons, was almost 5% smaller in people living in greener neighbourhoods.
7. And this one is really shocking:
10% more green space in our living environment led in one study to a decrease in the number of symptoms that is comparable with a decrease in age by 5 years. This means that you may live five years longer with access to green spaces and nature than those people with just ten percent less access to nature than you.
It’s hard to over-estimate how important nature is to us, in every way. We need to look after it, for ourselves today, as well as for our children and our futures. A simple way we can do this is to make sure we are visiting our green spaces as often as possible, looking after them, protecting them, staying familiar and staying in touch.
For references please ask for a copy of my Masters research paper:
“Is it possible to design a piece of visual artwork that provides all the health benefits of views of nature?”