Back in March I discussed research showing that we’re happier in natural environments than in cities (Happy yet? Naturally!) I’ve now found lots of similar research related to health.
Dr Roger Ulrich was interested in whether a natural view from a hospital room made any difference to recovery. He studied patients recovering from surgery and found that those who had a view of a grove of trees recovered faster than those looking out on a brick wall. “The results were dramatic and statistically significant” (Sternberg, 2009: 3). Not only did the patients with a natural view recover a full day sooner, they also needed less pain relief medication and had fewer minor complications.
These positive effects kick-in within minutes. Views of nature quickly increase positive feelings and reduce negative emotions like fear, anger, and sadness. We can measure parallel positive impacts on blood pressure, heart activity, muscle tension, and brain activity (Ulrich, 2002).
But you don’t have to be ill to benefit from nature! Robert Taylor Homes was a public housing development in Chicago. It was plagued with problems including narcotics, violence and poverty. But studies done by Frances Kuo and William Sullivan revealed that people living in flats overlooking trees had more positive emotions, were less aggressive and enjoyed more social interaction.
We’re seeing similar resuts in care farms across the UK. Hasan, a 14 year old boy who’s recently been excluded from school, spent a few days on a farm. He says: “It’s funny being here, you feel much calmer. There’s time to think” (Bibi van der Zee, 2011).
This kind of care works, as evidenced by the financial support given to ecotherapy projects by the mental health charity, Mind. But how does it work? According to Dr Ester Sternberg, research into understanding these effects is “taking the science of the mind-body connection beyond the body, beyond the mind, into the environment around us” (Sternberg, 2011). In essence then, the healing power of nature emerges from a bodymind place.
- Bibi van der Zee – Care farms help people recover their better nature
- Mind – Ecominds project
- Landscape and Human Health Laboratory