Ecotherapy: the natural pill in a dose of 120 minutes
Exactly two hours. This is the time that should be enough to make you feel comfortable. Nature reduces stress, has a positive effect on blood pressure, hormones, or immunity. Increasingly, science is talking about it. But in today's techno-performance world, it is increasingly challenging to approach green space. After all, even on holiday or in the woods, we take pictures as we are "offline". A bit of a paradox.
British scientists from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter conducted a survey of around 20,000 people between 2014 and 2016. It found that people moving around two hours a week in natural environments felt healthier and happier than those who did not. "It's well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people's health and wellbeing but until now we've not been able to say how much is enough,“ said Mathew White, head of the science team. According to him, two hours a week may be a realistic goal for many people.
Yes, 120 minutes. Hard limit. It doesn't matter if you do it all at once or spread it out over several days. And it really doesn't help if you exceed that level. Because it turns out that longer intervals don't significantly increase feelings of good health and life satisfaction. Nature is not only forests, but also urban parks, agricultural landscapes, and beaches.
One of a number of studies, you would think quite rightly, but this one has an interesting "research" plus – the positive effects were seen in different social groups. That is, in respondents regardless of occupation, ethnicity, wealth, age, or health. Especially for the elderly or chronically ill, this might not be a completely useless idea. At the very least, it gives the opportunity for further exploration.
The last kids in the woods?
I'm from a generation that spent our free time in the fresh air, climbing trees, playing ball games, and the worst parental punishment for us was not being banned from TV or computers, but not being able to go outside with friends. Today's kids don't have that privilege. They don't know what it's like to fly in the woods and smash their knee on a root. Abroad, there's a term for it called Nature Deficit Disorder, something like Nature Alienation Syndrome. The American writer and journalist Richard Louv used it in his book Last Child in the Woods in 2005, where he collected findings from a number of studies on the subject. Their conclusion was clear. Time spent in green spaces is a powerful weapon against stress and all kinds of illness. It can, among other things, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, calm the nervous system, boost immunity, improve concentration and generally lift your mood. According to Louv, "natural" children are less susceptible to illness, don't harbor as much aggression, and are better equipped for life's unexpected circumstances. In essence, this is true for adults as well. Just as our bodies require quality food and sleep, they also need regular regeneration in the form of contact with nature.
Nature is not only enjoyable but also essential for physical health and cognitive functioning.
Social networking makes us anti-social. Yes, it's that modern technology again. A tool almost indispensable to life and work today, but its excessive load is detrimental to mental and physical health. Do you know technostress? This term was first used by the American psychologist Craig Brod in 1984! Many of us weren't even born yet. Simply put – we are permanently wired. Not only at work, but also in our leisure time we go on online alert. We may not be able to imagine everyday life without blue screens anymore. Would we survive? Without GPS navigation, gaming, fitness, entertainment, motivational or time management apps, social media, etc. Smartphones have a very strong impact on how we live. Yes, they can be great helpers, but when things go wrong, they can also be evil overlords. Excessive amounts can throw off our natural sleep patterns, can lead to a greater risk of exhaustion, cynicism and burnout, demotivate and fatigue.
Green is the new blue
Nature also works on technostress. All the more reason to seek out paths to it and regularly dose yourself with offline sessions. For most of human history, we have lived in a rural environment, a touch wild. Only in recent centuries has the trend of urbanization taken hold. Currently, more than 4 billion people worldwide live in urban areas, with an estimated migration of another 3 billion by 2050. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan invented the Attention Restoration Theory, which argues that in busy cities, in stressful environments, or even at work, we have to expend more energy to focus, or that we are less distracted in our natural environment. Nature improves our ability to concentrate, resulting in a more relaxed body and mind. What's in it for us? Cities and governments should look for ways to incorporate greenery into people's daily lives. Encourage the development of urban parks, community gardens, farms, roadside beds, roof gardens, avenues, children's outdoor play areas, forest nurseries, or 'green' buildings.
The forest is a therapist
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku – "bathing in the forest". Actually, it's a kind of immersion in the depths of the forest. Soaking up the atmosphere of the forest. The term itself was born in Japan in the 1980s and is a physiological and psychological exercise to arm against the techno boom, to teach people to be more offline, and also to appreciate the nature around them. In fact, Japanese scientists have found that a chemical released by trees and plants (phytoncides) boosts the immune system. Which can be great prevention against infections and other diseases.
Although there are certified guides for forest therapy (and certainly an excursion like this can give you an exclusive experience, see for example the worldwide Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides), you don't have to look for complexities. Simply go for a walk in a forest and consciously perceive (mindfulness is called) the stimuli around you. Don't rush anywhere, don't give yourself a goal, move slowly, relax, breathe deeply. Touch the trees, enjoy the colours and sounds around you. Be with yourself and allow yourself to be at ease. PS. Leave your phone at home (or at least turn it off).
"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never disappoint you."
Frank Lloyd Wright
It is obvious that our relationship with nature is deeply coded in us. Leaving aside scientific studies and surveys (although the results of their measurements before and after "exposure" to nature are indeed not negligible), we need only answer ourselves. Why do you choose hotel rooms with an ocean view? Why do you long for balconies and terraces? Why do you feel reborn after trekking in the mountains or camping?
The natural environment plays an important role in human development and has a profound effect on how we feel, behave and think. It nourishes us from within. That is why it is important for our physical and psychological well-being to reconnect broken bonds. Can you go on a weekend trip? Go for a run in the woods instead of the treadmill at the gym or just take a little walk in the park between work meetings? Believe me, that's always a good idea.