Visiting nature for nature’s sake
In Colorado, we are fortunate to live near extraordinary natural areas. Many of us take advantage of this by participating in outdoor recreational activities, which is a good thing because exercise, including walking, can be beneficial to both your mind and your body. But did you know that visiting nature for the sake of simply experiencing nature can be beneficial as well? This is especially true for women and older adults.
A recent British study with almost 5,000 participants investigated the relationship between visiting nature, feeling connected to nature, and well-being. They found that those who visited nature at least once per week reported higher general health. Feeling connected to nature also played an important role in an individual’s well-being: those who felt more connected to nature reported higher eudaimonic well-being, meaning they sensed they were living their lives to the fullest.
To make the story a bit more complex, the degree to which someone felt connection to nature impacted the relationship between visiting nature and eudaimonic well-being. For those who did not feel strongly connected to nature, experiencing natural environments was positively related to eudaimonic well-being. In other words, if you don’t feel very connected to nature, then being in it may be especially important for you if you’re interested in gaining experiences that will make you feel more fulfilled and satisfied with your life.
One important thing to keep in mind is that this study wasn’t experimental. This means that the study can’t tell us whether being in nature led to good health or whether good health led to being in nature. However, previous experimental studies have given us a clue about the causal link. One such study had participants walk through either an urban environment or a nature preserve. They found that those who walked through the nature preserve experienced more positive emotions and a greater ability to reflect on a life problem than those who walked through the urban environment.
Another important factor is that, as previously mentioned, simply experiencing nature seems to be particularly effective. Studies have found that walking is more related to connectedness than other, more engaging activities like exercising, playing, or eating. This could be because when we’re walking, we’re truly experiencing nature. While we walk, we’re more immersed in the natural environment, and thus we’re able to benefit more from being in it.
Interestingly, the benefits go beyond the individual as well. The British study found that those who visited nature at least once per week and those who felt connected to nature also reported engaging more frequently in pro-environmental household behaviors, like avoiding car use. This is good because many actions, including household behaviors, have the potential to substantially slow down climate change.
So go to your favorite natural area and bring a friend — you may help to improve your health, and the planet’s!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Ross is a graduate student who studies environmental psychology in the Applied Social and Health Psychology program at CSU.