Nature Is Good For Us In Many Ways: A Scientist’s Take On Life

Nature Is Good For Us In Many Ways: A Scientist’s Take On Life

Helen Pilcher, Science Focus

Nature Is Good For All

We see biological markers of stress reduction and improvements in psychological wellbeing when people spend time in the natural world. Studies prove this beyond doubt.

Nature helps us to relax after a difficult day. It can lead to an increase in positive emotions (read ‘happy hormones’) and a reduction in negative thought patterns, such as rumination. It’s good for the environment too. Research suggests that people who feel more connected to nature are more likely to develop pro-environmental behavior.

No Need To Go Far

Nature is all around. Just look outside or open a window. Be purposeful. Take the time to stop, and really look and listen. You’ll start to notice things that you never spotted before. Like that small bird in the nearest teak tree or the big eagle’s nest high up.

Listening To Nature Is Like A Superpower

When you walk past a hedgerow, you can’t see the birds that are inside it. But if you learn to identify a few calls and then stop to listen, you might hear a wren, or a goldfinch, or a robin.

Need To Know

  1. Getting outdoors and spending time in nature have measurable positive effects on your well-being.
  2. Don’t just rely on your eyesight, if you want to notice wildlife. Sound will often lead you to things you can’t initially see.
  3. Technology can bring the outdoors in, with beneficial effects. Recorded or simulated nature is nearly as good as the real thing.

Linger In Blue Spaces

Natural environments are made up of many elements. Our research is starting to tease out which of them are most beneficial. When you ask people what they value, blue spaces, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans, score highly.

Species richness is important too, as is birdsong. For me, nothing beats a blackbird on a rooftop at dusk. It instantly makes me feel at peace, and washes off the worst of the day.

America's most beautiful lakes | Times of India Travel
Credit: iStock

Visit Somewhere Awesome

It could help shrink your worries. Studies suggest that when we’re in the presence of awe-inspiring nature, like a large waterfall or giant redwood, it can have a profound effect. It can make both you and your worries feel small, and promote altruistic behavior.

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If You Can’t Go Out, Try Virtual Nature

Over the last 12 months, as people have been less able to go out, we’ve been seeking out nature on TV, radio and online. Winterwatch’s Mindful Moments were very popular.

I think virtual nature has therapeutic potential in its own right, so it’s almost as if people have been self-medicating. Our Virtual Nature Experiment is looking at the effects of virtual nature on wellbeing. We know that if people are tired or stressed at the end of a day, these digital versions of nature can help them feel better.

Listen to digital soundscapes

When you close your eyes, you can travel anywhere, and it can be really relaxing. There’s lots of content on the BBC’s Soundscapes for Wellbeing website, including a sound effects archive that contains 33,000 sound recordings. So, if you want to kick back by listening to the birds of the Borneo rainforest, it’s right there for you.

Is Virtual Nature A Substitute For Real Nature?

No, it is not, but it still has a positive effect. I’m interested in how we can use these virtual experiences to help those who literally can’t go out: people in care homes, patients recovering from surgery, or NHS staff who work such long days that they don’t get to go outside. We would love to bring this learning into those kinds of spaces.

Get out into nature if you can, but if you can’t, try listening to a soundscape on your radio. It might just be the next best thing.

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