Dr Deborah Cracknell –
Most of us enjoy spending time in natural environments – they make us feel good.
For some, time spent outdoors in natural settings provides valuable quality time with friends and family, away from the lure of computers and smart phones. Others may be drawn to the opportunities for physical recreation, perhaps something energetic like climbing, hiking or surfing, or something less vigorous, a ramble through the countryside or simply just gazing out to sea.
It probably just depends how the mood takes us. We follow our moods and inclinations, and often seek out natural environments when we feel stressed, tired or anxious – they seem to help clear our minds and give us precious ‘thinking space’.
The pull towards these ‘restorative’ environments, particularly in troubled times, seems quite intuitive, yet these apparently subconscious responses are supported by a substantial body of research suggesting that we tend to prefer natural settings to more urban ones because of the many physiological and psychological benefits they bring.
Much of this scientific evidence is based on research conducted in ‘green spaces’, ranging from challenging wildness experiences to simply pottering around one’s garden. It’s been suggested that the flora and fauna experienced in our surroundings can influence how we feel and that we tend to prefer parks with greater levels of different plants and animals, to those containing less diversity.
Nowadays, scientists are increasingly exploring the health and well-being benefits of ‘blue space’. This is unsurprising considering the high value we place on views of water, whether a lake, river or the coast. We are willing to pay substantially more for a hotel room with a sea view or a home by the coast. And while prices may be greater, so might be the health benefits.
One study found that those of us fortunate to live close to the coast rated our health better than those living further inland. Researchers suggest that this may relate to the greater opportunities for physical activity, for relaxation and for stress recovery – the biodiversity in aquatic settings can influence how we feel.
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© Deborah Cracknell