How nature improves wellbeing and overall health
This is the fourth and final post in my introductory series to how nature improves wellbeing, both mentally and physically. You can read the earlier posts here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. This post explores how nature specifically contributes to wellbeing, when we consider the Five Ways to Wellbeing (see part 3). As before, I’m using The Wildlife Trusts‘ report called Wellbeing benefits from natural environments rich in wildlife as my main reference source.
Increasingly urban areas with a lack of green space tends to encourage people to stay indoors, discouraging social connection. Green spaces however – whether natural or designed – encourage us to get out and hence interact with others, either by meeting friends or making new ones. Not only does this help the individual, it also helps to develop stronger communities. Group conservation activities in particular contribute to a sense of belonging, improving local social networking and developing a sense of place. These sorts of activities can also encourage social inclusion.
NATURE CONNECTION: From what I’ve read so far, nature connection itself is a huge and developing field of enquiry and warrants at least one blog post of its own from me in due course. Recent research is showing that nature connection is strongly rooted in our emotional involvement with nature and the meaning we find within it (please see the excellent Finding Nature blog from one of the leading experts in this field, Dr Miles Richardson – this post in particular). Nature connection is important for our wellbeing, particularly so for children as it has been shown to improve their hea, life satisfaction and even enhance attainment in subjects such as English (please refer to research by the RSPB)
Using green spaces for physical activity (getting your active greens!) benefits you physically and mentally. Being able to get outdoors in nature means we’re 40% less likely to become obese, and by choosing a natural environment over an urban one we’re more likely to be more physical even when doing comparable activities. Choosing natural spaces for exercise is likely to reduce stress and improve psychological restoration more so than exercising away from from nature.
Mindfulness improves wellbeing, and noticing nature can enhance how mindful you are: the two are linked. Being mindful in nature is thought to improve attention restoration (reducing mental fatigue and improving concentration) by enhancing one’s awareness of experience. Simply viewing nature can manifest many improvements to wellbeing (reduced stress/mental fatigue, enhance rate of recovery from illness – discussed in part 2).
Using natural environments as a venue for learning activities offers wide-ranging benefits, such as enhanced self-esteem/resilience, and personal, emotional, and social development. Nature-based activities help people learn about their environment whilst gaining new skills and interacting with others, in addition to the aforementioned benefits. In children, learning outdoors develops skills better than in the classroom, and using nature within learning activities enables children to achieve more, both of which enhance wellbeing.
Volunteering for nature-based activities helps to build communities by enabling people to meet and interact, and by providing or caring for community green spaces. Volunteering generally develops skills and so helps personal development, improving self-confidence, but doing so in nature gives high levels of satisfaction and helps us develop more of a sense of self and of place, in addition to the physical exercise often derived during the activity.
By considering specifically how nature improves wellbeing, using the NEF’s Five Ways to Wellbeing, I think we can all help ourselves to feel better and get more out of life in both the short and long term. We can use these to develop a programme of activities, like you would if you wanted to get fit or lose weight, to boost our overall health and wellbeing in ways science is now showing really work.
Wellbeing through nature, for all the family!