Imagine the scene. You’re standing in a hidden forest on a brightly lit, warm Autumnal evening. The trees above you rustle from the gentle breeze and the leaves in brilliant reds, oranges and golds decoratively dot the soft ground beneath your feet. The air is crisp and you can hear songbirds gently singing over your head. Maybe there’s a river trickling nearby…
It’s hard to find a word other than relaxing to describe the above scene.
But why? Why does this scene and others when we find ourselves reconnecting with nature, leave us feeling recharged?
Could being outside amongst mother nature more often actually be good for our health? And if so, what exact benefits does this “regreening” offer us?
Growing plethora of evidence…
For a long time many experts off the mainstream path touted the mental and physical health benefits of simply being outdoors and experiencing nature. The Japanese practice of shinrin yoku – “forest bathing”, is literally the act of going for long walks in nature to promote health and well being. The only problem (until recently that is) was there was previously little to no evidence to back up these claims. But now, there’s a growing plethora of studies bolstering this camp of thought. And the science seems to check out.
But how exactly? And why? And what are the exact benefits that mother nature could potentially offer us?
So, what are the benefits?
Research findings have shown a number of positive results. Access to green environments yields a number of benefits such as:
Positive effects on mood, cognition and anxiety 
Quicker recovery from surgery 
Bolstering your immune system 
But, the opposite – not having enough access to nature can have it’s negative effects as well. This lack of green has been be linked to:
Cardiovascular disease 
Higher levels of mental of distress 
For the majority, most of us us nowadays are city dwellers. We live in urban landscapes and have less contact with the outdoors and nature than our ancestors did just a few hundred years ago. But why the difference? What is the cause of all of these benefits of just being outdoors in nature and all the negative issues linked with not being out in the open as much as we should?
Attention Restoration Theory goes a long way in explaining this. Firstly this theory splits the definition of attention into two kinds of attention – directed attention and involuntary attention. Directed attention is attention where you are focusing intently at whatever task is at hand – driving your car, walking a busy street, chopping with a sharp knife – these all require we expend effort in order to achieve focusing on the task at hand and ignoring other distractions. After a while of directed attention, our minds, like a muscle being constantly exercised without rest, will tire. This leads to a drop in performance (want to read more on taking care of your brain, read our blog post on the benefits of taking vacation).
Involuntary attention or effortless attention is closely related. It refers to when we are carrying out tasks that require much less attention than directed attention. This kind of attention can be much less depleting on the brain’s resources.
Nature has an abundance of fascinating stimuli, think of how easy and captivating it is watching fish in an aquarium, staring out at a radiant sunset, playing with a family pet, or watching and listening to the gentle lapping of waves at the beach. We are naturally drawn into these natural environments with their engaging stimuli and they require very little effort to focus on.
The majority of things in our modern, man-made world require directed attention. Traffic jams, busy on the go lifestyle etc. all constantly grab our attention and if continuous, they can deplete that very attention.
Nature on the other hand acts as a restorative source for our attention. When surrounded by trees, grass and plants we become gently focused on the natural environment around us. Sounds of the ocean’s waves, leaves rustling in the wind, smells of woodpine, colours and shades of trees all naturally and easily engross our attention. This is why this form of attention can help leave us feeling mentally refreshed.
What this means is if we can bring ourselves back to our natural environment, even for a brief while, we allow our brains the needed break they crave. Allowing for recovery and active rest in our brains. Leaving you in better mental shape to return to tackling your importnat tasks.
The multitude of benefits that research has indicated over the past few decades are easily within our grasp. But,we know we all can’t just up and relocate to a cabin deep in a quiet forest, but lucky for you we have a list of easy and quick to action tips for you to become one with your inner nature guru and really begin to reap the health benefits of getting in touch with nature.
Tips to get the health boost from Mother Nature.
Buy a potted plant for your work desk or to place around the house.
Inexpensive and effective. Why not get your thumbs green and visit your local garden centre?
Surround yourself with imagery of nature
Try using the Loom and watch it’s interactive landscapes change before your eyes.
Use apps like Noisli.com
Live in a noisy neighborhood or work in a hectic office? Melt away the frantic chatter with sounds of windy woods, crackling fires, singing birds and gentle waves.
Try going for a walk in your local park
Check the link for nearby parks here at:
Add an Irish option too? e.g. http://www.irishtrails.ie/
Or visit a nearby forest, beach, mountain or state park
Check gov link for state parks near you here at:
Try and get active in your local park and use park run
Have fun getting in touch with the wilderness out there!
 Bratman, G.N., et al., The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2015. 138: p. 41-50.
 Ulrich, R., View through a window may influence recovery. Science, 1984. 224(4647): p. 224-225.
 Li, Q., et al., Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International journal of immunopathology and pharmacology, 2008. 21(1): p. 117-127.
 Kardan, O., et al., Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific reports, 2015. 5.
 White, M.P., et al., Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data. Psychological science, 2013: p. 0956797612464659