July 11, 2017

‘The Nature Principle’: 5 Ways Nature Makes Us Healthier and Happier

“We tend to block off many of our senses when we’re staring at a screen. Nature time can literally bring us to our senses.”

—Richard Louv


Richard Louv, author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” encourages people to drop their digital devices and get outside. Why? Because we are connected to nature and being in nature is beneficial to our physical and mental well-being. Louv is not alone in this belief. He is joined by a chorus of psychologists and researchers from universities in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and California (to name just a few) who have discovered a link between nature and our health and happiness.


How do we benefit by a stroll along the shoreline or a walk among trees? GPA Consulting picks the top five benefits, according to scientific studies, of a human-nature connection.


5 Ways Nature Makes Us Healthier and Happier


1) Nature improves our mood and well-being

“Nature is fuel for the soul,” says Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.” Several studies, including ones published in Mind, Journal of Environmental Psychology, and Psychology Today, and by the University of Minnesota, say that respondents reported a change in mood, from stressed and anxious to calm and balanced after spending some time in nature. Some respondents said they felt more alive.

2) Nature reduces depression, and our stress and anxiety

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Not only can nature elevate a person’s mood, thereby reducing stress and anxiety, researchers at Stanford University also say that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. Another study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that a 90-minute walk in a natural area, versus those who walked in a high-traffic urban area, had decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.

3) Increases cognitive function, restores mental clarity

If you’re a fan of “The Big Bang Theory” television series you may have heard this from Dr. Sheldon Cooper, who in one episode tried to improve his mental functioning by walking in a virtual reality forest. And, no, this isn’t just fiction. Research shows a person doesn’t necessarily need to be in the middle of a forest to get the benefits of a natural setting. Viewing nature through a window can also increase cognitive function and mental clarity. Psychologist Dr. Rachel Kaplan found that office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health, and reported greater life satisfaction than those who did not.


4) Nature strengthens our connections to others

Can nature make one a nicer person or a nicer neighbor? Yes, at least according to a study sponsored by the University of Illinois. Researchers at UI found that Chicago residents who lived in public housing with trees and green spaces around their buildings reported a stronger sense of belonging and a greater sense of community. These communities also had a lower crime rate, including less incidents of street violence and domestic abuse.


5) Nature heals the body, reduces pain

Nature works wonders on the body, too. Research shows that time in nature reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. Roger S. Ulrich, director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, discovered that patients whose hospital rooms overlooked trees had a faster, easier recovery than those patients whose rooms overlooked brick walls. Patients who had a room with a natural view had fewer medical complications and required less pain medication.