We grew up being told that getting outside was “good for us”. The phrase “get some fresh air” implies we place importance on going outdoors to find mental clarity or resolve conflict. When you stop to reflect, there are numerous similar examples of our societal belief that being in nature is important for our well-being. Even in the 18th century, poet Samuel Johnson said, “Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.”
In the face of culture, society and our gut telling us that getting outdoors is key for health and happiness, it seems strange that British adults spend 90% of their time indoors. Is it the Great British weather? Or, perhaps the sedentary tendency of many of us to work behind a computer screen? The following studies help remind us what we stand to gain by exploring green spaces on a more regular basis. After all, when we consider ‘work:life integration’ rather than ‘work:life balance’, we understand how our deliberate acts of well-being can positively impact what we spend the majority of time doing: working.
Science-Backed Reasons for Getting Outdoors
- Going outdoors improves your focus: Researchers at the University of Michigan found that attention spans and memory performance was improved by 20% by spending an hour in nature. They also found that participants felt the same benefits, regardless of the temperature. This means that the temperamental British weather is no longer an excuse.
- Nature reduces stress in the city: Research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that urban dwellers who were asked to spend at least ten minutes in nature three time a week reported reduced levels of stress. The greatest reductions were found when participants spent between twenty and thirty minutes in urban nature.
- Switching off from technology and embracing nature improves creative problem solving: In the journal PLoS ONE, researchers found that hikers who were disconnected from technology and immersed in a natural setting for four days had a 50% increased performance at a creative problem solving task.
- Connecting with nature improves health and happiness: University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts launched ’30 Days Wild’ – an experiment that measured the impact of people doing something ‘wild’, such as feeding the birds, every day for 30 days. The researchers found that 30% more participants rated their health as ‘excellent’ after the month-long experiment, which they attributed to the increase in happiness.
Ways to Reconnect with Nature in the City
If you’re a city dweller, finding natural spaces requires more effort, although the research above suggests it pays off. In London, there are plenty of places to get back to nature, including Kew Gardens, city farms, Royal parks and nature reserves. For more simple ways to reconnect with nature, try these ideas:
- Go for a walk along a canal or riverside
- Plant a window box
- Nurture some houseplants to create fresh oxygen at home
- Walk, sit, meditate or picnic in a park
- Eat more seasonally and visit farmers’ markets
- Visit a nature-inspired exhibition (for example, Wildlife Photographer of the Year at London’s Natural History Museum)
- Volunteer and help conserve the city’s wildlife (for example, London Wildlife Trust)
We know that nature can have many benefits on health and happiness, but perhaps we need a reminder that these benefits aren’t exclusive to living in the countryside. Recognising the reassuring pattern and pace of nature is a good way to find refreshing slowness in our hurried lifestyles. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”. To truly connect, we must adjust our pace.