Attached to technology and subjugated by the global trend of living in cities, we are getting further and further away from nature. We spend less and less time in it, despite its health benefits. Indeed, evidence is gradually accumulating of the value to our bodies and minds of even a short stay in the ‘wilderness’.
The cure for a tired brain
Against the backdrop of the modern world, cognitive benefits really do sound like a balm. Attention restoration theory claims that nature can revive our ability to focus and replenish missing cognitive resources. For example, psychologists Marc Berman and Kathryn Schertz of the University of Chicago have addressed cognitive fitness in the context of going green in their study, and their findings are not insignificant. Green spaces near schools support children’s cognitive development. Views of green spaces near children’s homes encourage self-control in behavior. The availability of natural environments improves attentional functioning in adults. Nature compared to the city showed better working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.
Other research, in turn, highlights short “green breaks”. Students were tested on a boring and attention-depleting task – clicking on a computer key while certain numbers were displayed. Halfway through, they took a 40-second pause, with some looking at a blooming green roof, others at a concrete one. The first group made significantly fewer mistakes than the second.
In touch with emotions
Taking care of inner well-being is as important as building physical strength. The body and mind are connected and we need them to work well side by side. Fortunately, they have a common helper in their care. Gregory Bratman of the University of Washington links nature to an increase in happiness, subjective well-being, positive social interactions, fewer mental difficulties, and a sense that life has meaning.
There is an interesting perspective on the effects of nature mediated through videos or virtual reality. Yes, surveys are already looking at these aspects too. For example, one study compared groups of people where the first part personally walked outside in natural or urban environments and the second just watched these environments on video. In both cases, there were improvements in attention, positive emotions, and the ability to think about the problem. Of course, physical presence saw stronger effects, but an interesting finding is that remotely mediated nature can also help. Research on virtual reality has also come to a similar conclusion. While it does not equal the real experience of the outdoors, it does provide some value and can be of particular benefit to people who cannot get out on their own.
Green versus blue encouragement
Nature comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. The more diverse the organism, the better for us. It probably won’t surprise anyone to see the result that people felt more connected to nature and more beneficially regenerated after spending time in rural and coastal locations than after visiting urban green spaces. Biodiversity, in short, matters. Which is no reason to skip a walk in the park. We can’t all afford trips to wild landscapes, we don’t all have nature reserves close to our houses, so it’s important to make the most of everything our immediate surroundings have to offer. It’s like exercise, even a few minutes is better than none.
We talk all the time about the “green” effects on attention and concentration, emotional stability, good mood, we can also mention less stress, higher empathy or cooperation. Yes, most research looks with interest at green spaces (parks, forests, meadows, etc.), and so do we, but it turns out that blue shouldn’t disappear from our lives either. Blue spaces, or places with views of lakes, ponds, rivers, seas and oceans, have a similarly strong influence on well-being and regeneration. Sometimes perhaps even more intense. The research so far is not on as deep a scale as in other cases, on the other hand, why rely on them. Do your own. There is nothing easier than to test the effects of water levels directly on yourself.
PS. We are launching a cabin on the water soon. Is that a coincidence? ☺