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Being in nature is good for us

Tended 5 months ago (5 times) Planted 2 years ago Mentioned 2 times



The difference in joy respondents felt in urban versus natural settings (especially coastal environments) was greater than the difference they experienced from being alone versus being with friends, and about the same as doing favored activities like singing and sports versus not doing those things. (Florence Williams, The Nature Fix)

For more than 99 percent of our history as humans, we lived close to nature. We lived in the open. The first house with a roof appeared only 5,000 years ago. Television less than a century ago. Internet-connected phones only about 30 years ago. Over the large majority of our 2-million-year evolutionary history, Darwinian forces molded our brains to find kinship with nature, what the biologist E. O. Wilson called “biophilia.” That kinship had survival benefit. Habitat selection, foraging for food, reading the signs of upcoming storms all would have favored a deep affinity with nature. Social psychologists have documented that such sensitivities are still present in our psyches today. Further psychological and physiological studies have shown that more time spent in nature increases happiness and well-being; less time increases stress and anxiety. Thus, there is a profound disconnect between the natureless environment we have created and the “natural” affections of our minds. (“This Is No Way to Be Human” in The Atlantic)

From Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy:

To the surprise of the public, and even to researchers, studies have shown that brief exposure to the natural world produces measurable medical and social benefits for humans. Plant a tree outside a classroom window and test scores improve. Plant a tree outside a hospital room windows and the patients in the facility heal faster. Studies show that apartment buildings with treed courtyards house families that undergo fewer divorces, higher graduation rates, and less juvenile delinquency than nearby apartment complexes with no trees. Spending just 15 minutes in a peaceful natural setting reduces our blood pressure, as well as the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in our blood. What, pray-tell, is going on? There is a growing consensus that all of these effects stem from the reduction of stress that results from contact with nature.

Birds and birdsong play an important role

This 2022 study found that

A sample of 1292 participants completed a total of 26,856 ecological momentary assessments between April 2018 and October 2021. Everyday encounters with birdlife were associated with time-lasting improvements in mental wellbeing. (emphasis mine)

Participants did not know the study was about avian encounters, but those who reported seeing or hearing birds over the course of their day experienced improved levels of mental well-being for hours afterward.

Another 2022 study found a connection between hearing birdsong and reduced levels of anxiety, paranoia, and depression. A greater diversity of bird songs increased the effect somewhat. Notably, the same study found that the sounds of automobile traffic increased levels of those negative emotions.

I’m reminded of a possible explanation for this effect from a moving interview with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. Hempton explains how the frequency range of human hearing overlaps uncannily with that of birdsong, and surmises that human hearing may have evolved in part to detect birdsong because the environments that are good for birds—lush with shelter, with ample nuts and berries—were crucial for early humans as well. For millions of years, the sound of birds has signaled safety and well-being to our human ears, and continues to do so today even as we mindlessly drive birds away from our human environments.

Need more birdsong in your life?

Shinrin-yoku, Forest Bathing

From the same Atlantic piece:

Japanese doctors and psychologists have developed a mental therapy called “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku). The idea is that spending time in nature—specifically walking through forests—might improve mental health. And it does. Research with hundreds of healthy volunteers, using standard psychological tests of mood and anxiety and comparing mental states of people who “bathed” in a forest for a day with those of the same group on another “control” day, away from the forest, have shown that hostility, depression, and stress are significantly decreased after a day in the forest. […]

Numerous studies, recently summarized and published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, have shown that forest bathing significantly reduces levels of cortisol, the body’s principal stress hormone.

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