As little as five minutes outside can lead to significant improvement in mood and self-esteem!
The urban landscape we live in today, with its concrete structures, neon lights, and digital screens, is dramatically different from the lush greens and open skies our ancestors lived under. As our surroundings have changed, so too has our connection to nature. Re-establishing that connection is what nature therapy is all about. The transformative power of nature therapy lies in its ability to improve your mood, reduce stress, promote relaxation, enhance physical health, and foster community connection.
The Science of Nature Therapy
Before delving into the various benefits of nature therapy, it’s important to understand the science that supports it. Nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy or green therapy, is the practice of spending time in nature to boost mental and physical health. It could involve activities like walking in a forest, gardening, or even simply sitting in a park. A growing body of research attests to the efficacy of this simple yet impactful practice.
A study by the University of Essex in the UK found that as little as five minutes of ‘green exercise’ – activities in the presence of nature – led to significant improvements in mood and self-esteem (Barton and Pretty, 2010)^[1^]. Meanwhile, researchers in Japan discovered that a practice known as ‘forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin-yoku’ can significantly reduce stress hormone levels (Park et al., 2010)^[2^].
The Emotional Benefits: Mood Enhancement and Stress Reduction
Engaging with nature can profoundly impact your emotional health. Whether you are walking through a park, working in your garden, or observing wildlife, your interaction with nature can lead to mood enhancement and stress reduction.
A seminal study conducted by Kaplan (1995)^[3^] found that even passive engagement with nature, such as viewing pictures of natural scenes, could improve mood, reduce anger, and alleviate mental fatigue. Furthermore, a 2019 study by the University of Michigan demonstrated that spending at least 20 minutes in nature could significantly lower cortisol levels, a primary stress hormone (Hunter et al., 2019)^[4^].
The Physical Health Benefits
The benefits of nature therapy extend beyond emotional well-being to include physical health. Regular exposure to nature has been linked to numerous health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, immune system function, and overall longevity (Twohig-Bennett & Jones, 2018)^[5^].
Moreover, spending time outdoors can enhance vitamin D levels, which plays a crucial role in bone health and has been associated with lower risks of various diseases, including multiple types of cancer (Holick, 2007)^[6^].
Boosting Confidence, Fostering Community Connection
Engaging in outdoor activities, whether individually or in groups, can bolster self-esteem and confidence. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that participants who interacted with nature reported feeling more alive and energized (Ryan et al., 2010)^[7^].
Moreover, community gardens and local park events provide opportunities for individuals to connect with their local community. These activities can lead to social interactions, fostering a sense of belonging, and building stronger community ties (Kingsley et al., 2009)^[8^].
The Call of the Wild
Nature therapy isn’t a radical new idea, but a return to our roots. Spending time in nature, whether that be in a lush forest, a quiet park, or a backyard garden, can offer a multitude of physical and psychological benefits. In a world increasingly defined by technology and urbanization, perhaps it’s time we heeded the call of the wild and embraced the healing power of nature.
References: Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.  Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.  Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology, 15(3), 169-182.  Hunter, M. R., Gillespie, B. W., & Chen, S. Y. P. (2019). Urban nature experiences reduce stress in the context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 722.  Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental research, 166, 628-637.  Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266-281.  Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K. W., Mistretta, L., & Gagné, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(2), 159-168.  Kingsley, J. Y., Townsend, M., & Henderson-Wilson, C. (2009). Cultivating health and wellbeing: members’ perceptions of the health benefits of a Port Melbourne community garden. Leisure studies, 28(2), 207-219.