Most of us know intuitively that Nature is good for us; just being in Nature can give us an emotional lift and a walk in the park can calm and restore us. This is something historically we have taken for granted in parks and recreation because we have known it to be true ever since we started spending time in Nature.
Recent research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine provides scientific proof that walking in Nature and spending time under the leafy shade of trees causes electrochemical changes in the brain that can lead people to enter into a highly beneficial state of “effortless attention”.
The researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh state that “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire, with positive benefits to physical and intellectual activities, and to social and psychological resources.”
This mental benefit - happiness - occurs in individuals who are engaged in play, exploration, or other discovery type activities.
One interesting aspect of this research is how it confirms a theory concerning the ‘soft fascination’ of Nature. In The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective,researchers Stephen and Rachel Kaplan deconstruct what they call ‘the restorative experience’ – of being lifted outof a state of mental fatigue, which is most often accomplished by ‘getting away’ or ‘escaping’ from stressful environments and situations.
In the process of escaping from mental fatigue, there are certain types of restorative experiences that seem to transcend others and produce multiple benefits – one of which is the ‘fascination’ that occurs when an individual is immersed in Nature. Entering the state of effortless attention can occur in a variety of ways – walking in the woods, hiking along a trail in a totally natural environment, or sitting by a stream watching water tumble over rocks.
The experience of being in Nature is transformative in and of itself; it can cause our emotional state to be uplifted and good mental balance to be restored. Being in Nature is truly refreshing in a deep, meaningful way
When we enter a green space of natural light and shadows containing the colours of Nature, we can also enter a particularly reflective mode during which we can comprehend more than one thing at a time, a state in which stresses and pressures are reduced. We are able to enjoy multiple sensory stimuli and perceptions even when we are thinking about other things.
All in all, being in Nature can provide a fully restorative experience – a walk in the park may be the most beneficial thing we can do for our mental and physical health.