A hike through dense bushland might not sound like a relaxing or calming experience, but a growing amount of research has suggested spending time in nature can improve your mental health.
- A growing amount of research suggests spending time in nature can improve your mental health
- Studies also show that just watching nature videos can increase positive emotions
- Spending time in marine environments can also help reduce stress
Whether it is a quick stroll through your local park or going for a dip in the ocean, studies suggest it can have a restorative effect on our minds.
“It also tends to increase perceptions of feelings of well-being,” said Shauna Jones, senior manager of health and community activation for Parks Victoria.
“It certainly helps various age cohorts cope with different life demands or life events.”
Since the mid 2000s, Parks Victoria has investigated the health benefits of spending time in nature as part of its Healthy Parks, Healthy People program.
Its latest commissioned literature review of the health benefits of parks and natural spaces by Deakin University found access and proximity to safe, high-quality parks improved mental health.
While finding time for a daily trek in your national park can be tricky, there are other ways to increase the amount of nature in your life.
A 2009 study by Stephan Mayer and colleagues published in the journal Environment And Behaviour found that even just watching videos of natural or urban settings could increase connectedness to nature and positive emotions.
Ms Jones suggested finding nature pictures for wallpapers or screensavers for your computer at home and work.
“We’ve got some beautiful screensavers rolling through on our computers here at Parks Victoria, which is pretty lovely,” she said.
Grow your own
If just watching nature isn’t enough, why not grow it yourself.
Studies had shown that being able to see green plants had a restorative benefit, Ms Jones said.
“Having indoor plants, having a little garden patch, even if you’re living in an apartment, out on your balcony, all of these things seem to show some benefit to individuals.”
Shauna Jones says being able to see green plants has a restorative benefit. (Supplied: Sarah Minto)
If you need to feel the fresh air on your face, try finding daily activities that can take you outside and into nature.
A survey by Parks Victoria found that 64 per cent of people said they did most of their exercise indoors — despite almost 80 per cent of people reporting that being in nature improved their mental health.
While Ms Jones accepted that the weather, safety concerns and access to green spaces could be barriers, she said moving your daily exercise outside could make a difference.
“Research shows spending about 15 to 20 minutes in green space or a park can actually significantly lower stress hormones,” she said.
Spending time in nature is not just limited to parks or forests.
“We actually can get benefits from all different types of nature,” Ms Jones said.
“That might even be walking out onto a pier, on a bay or a harbour.
“If you can look out over over the horizon, that does show benefits for lots of people just to relax and ponder.”
Disconnecting in the surf
The health benefits of spending time outside can even help those dealing with more serious stress-related mental health issues.
Cathy Starling says veterans find being in the water very settling (Supplied: Surfing Australia/Soldier On)
Soldier On, a veteran support group, runs several programs within a natural setting, including surfing and kayaking classes.
Cathy Starling, its national programs manager for social connection, said the natural setting helped the veterans relax.
“They’ve just been able to really let go for the time that they’re embracing the outdoors or getting into nature,” she said.
“Unfortunately, for a lot of the veterans that we do work with, they might have experienced trauma from their time overseas or on deployment, and so there may be quite a few triggers in the social urban environment.
“Getting out into the water or being out in nature can often be really settling.”