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The Healing Power of Nature


Article by Angela Schaack, LCSW,AFAA-GFI

Photography by Angela Schaack

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Spring arrives mid-March, but in Texas it feels like it has already arrived. It's my favorite time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy a healthy dose of nature. Take a moment to think about how you feel after spending a couple of hours in nature - at a park, on a hike, or sitting on a beautiful beach at sunset. Regardless of age or culture, people have found nature to be calming and even healing.

“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. And, the studies found that feeling connected to nature was a significant predictor of happiness. 

These healing powers of nature are being used therapeutically by some clinicians. You may now hear the term Ecotherapy which covers a range of interventions including activities such as fly-fishing to simple walks outdoors in the fresh air. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, can improve emotional wellbeing by reducing feelings of anger, fear, and depression.

Nature can also contribute to your physical wellbeing by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to public health researcher scientists Stamatakis and Mitchell. And experiments have found that adults and children who are exposed to natural environments have improved working memory and attention, while exposure to urban environments was linked to attention deficits.  

It seems clear that being in nature is good for you. In the past couple of years, researchers have turned their attention to finding out just how long we need to be exposed to nature to reap the benefits. In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits within a week — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing than those who don’t. Two hours is a key part of the study since the study found no benefits for people who spent less than two hours a week in nature.

“It’s well-known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being, but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough,” White said. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”

It’s reassuring to have the empirical data to show that being in nature improves our health and positive outlook. However, I believe that most of us have already experienced the positive effects of watching a beautiful sunset, or walking down a tree covered trail, or even sitting on the porch in your own backyard. I feel confident that we all can find at least two hours a week to get in a therapeutic dose of nature. It's well worth it!

By Angela Schaack, LCSW, AFAA-GFI


Impact of nature How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?  Author: Louise Delagran, MA, MEd

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health, by Jim Robbins on Jan. 9, 2020

Bringing nature into treatment, by American Psychological Association Writer/Contributor

Nurtured by nature, by Kirsten Weir on April 1, 2020

Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019. 

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