Have you ever wondered why a walk by the sea or a stroll through the woods leaves you feeling refreshed and invigorated? It's not just your imagination; there's a wealth of scientific evidence supporting the powerful connection between our cognitive health and exposure to nature.
Biophilia is a concept coined by renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson. The idea is that humans have an innate affinity for the natural world. This leads to a desire to seek a connection with nature. The concept was understood by Wilson as an evolutionary design to ensure our survival. We are instinctively drawn towards landscapes and places that will nurture us. It’s increasingly evident that we not only need the natural world for our survival (for clean air, clean water, food, medicine, clothes and shelter) but also that we need to nurture our connections with nature in order to thrive and stay well.
In this blog post, we'll delve into the science behind how spending time in nature can significantly improve our health and wellbeing – particularly when it comes to our mental health, focus, and concentration.
- How nature is used as part of therapy to restore your attention
- The impact exposure to nature can have on your state of mind
- How even bringing elements of the outdoors in can make a big difference to your focus and mental health
Attention and Focus: Nature's Restorative Powers
Researchers have long been fascinated by the effects of nature on our cognitive resources. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that natural environments can help replenish our mental energy, which can become depleted in our increasingly busy lives (Kaplan, 1995). A study in Psychological Science in 2008 found that participants who took short walks in nature experienced significant improvements in attention and focus compared to those who walked in urban settings (Berman et al., 2008). Perhaps most surprisingly, the study showed that even looking at pictures of natural or urban environments produced similar cognitive benefits. The study’s results support Attention Restoration Theory, showing that exposure to natural environments can help restore cognitive function and attention, while urban environments may deplete these resources.
Stress and Anxiety: Nature's Calming Influence
Stress and anxiety can harm our cognitive health, and it turns out that nature might be the perfect antidote. Research has shown that exposure to nature can lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone), enhance immune function (particularly by increasing the number and activity of natural killer cells, which play a crucial role in the body’s defence against pathogens and cancer) and improve mood (Park et al., 2010). Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a practice that originated in Japan. It’s not quite as literal as it sounds - no water is involved. But it does involve spending time in a forest to experience its therapeutic effects. A 2010 study on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku demonstrated that forest bathing trips could lead to significant reductions in blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels, suggesting a reduction in stress and an overall improvement in physiological relaxation (Li, 2010).
Green Exercise: Boosting Cognitive Health with Physical Activity
Green exercise, or engaging in physical activity in natural environments, has been shown to have numerous benefits for cognitive health. An extensive 2005 review of green exercise programmes (involving activities such as walking, cycling, woodland activities or conservation work) revealed significant improvements in mood, self-esteem and overall psychological well-being. (Pretty et al., 2005). An earlier study found that simply looking at nature can significantly enhance focus and cognitive function. The study explored the impact of university dormitory views on the ability of the students to direct their attention. Natural views were associated with better focus and attention (Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995).
The Power of Natural Light
Natural light plays a vital role in regulating our circadian rhythms, which in turn impacts our cognitive performance. A 2017 study found that exposure to daylight in the morning led to better mood, sleep quality, and cognitive function among office workers (Figueiro et al., 2017).
Incorporating Nature into Daily Life
So, how can we harness the cognitive benefits of nature in our everyday lives? Here are some practical tips based on the years of research we’ve discovered above…
- Take regular breaks outside in green spaces
- Bring the outdoors in by incorporating plants and natural materials into your living and workspaces: having indoor plants in an office setting has been shown to improve attention capacity (Raanaas et al., 2011)
- Try and incorporate natural light into your environment
- Enjoy long walks, hikes and other activities in natural environments, as much as you can
- Expose yourself to daylight in the morning
Embracing Nature, the Zen Maitri Way
All of Zen Maitri’s products are carefully crafted to leverage the healing powers of nature to help you thrive. When it comes to improving mood and cognition, our team of medical herbalists have developed a few products you might be interested in…
Our Focus Tincture: Boost your mental clarity and alertness with this caffeine-free, natural liquid herbal extract containing ginkgo, rosemary, gotu kola, brahmi, frankincense and holy basil. It addresses underlying issues like stress and anxiety while enhancing concentration and mental retention, making it perfect for long study or work sessions.
Our Balance Tea: A deliciously floral, sweet, and earthy tea, expertly crafted to increase vitality and resilience during stressful times. Enjoy it daily for a as part of a comforting ritual. Ingredients including lemon balm, tulsi, chamomile, and rose petals, all work in harmony to soothe anxiety, uplift your mood, and support smooth digestion.
Our Heal the Heart Oil: Designed for those experiencing grief or heartbreak, this gentle, comforting oil featuring rose, frankincense, rose geranium and sandalwood eases sorrow and provides solace and strength. Simply massage a few drops onto your heart when needed to bring balance, serenity, and relaxation to your emotional healing journey.
The science behind nature’s impact on our mental health, cognition and physical health is undeniable. When living in hectic, busy, and urban environments, it’s important to find ways to reconnect with nature and harness its restorative power.
We endeavour to embody this philosophy by crafting products that help you to infuse the essence of nature’s healing properties into your daily routine. By using our natural teas, oils, supplements, and more, you can take on the powerful benefits that nature has to offer, even in the midst of a bustling city. Ultimately, Zen Maitri aims to bridge the gap between the natural world and our modern lifestyles, providing you with accessible and effective ways to bring the outdoors in.
Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
Figueiro, M. G., Steverson, B., Heerwagen, J., Kampschroer, K., & Rea, M. S. (2017). The impact of daytime light exposures on sleep and mood in office workers. Sleep Health, 3(3), 204-215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2017.03.005
Frumkin, H. (2011). Beyond toxicity – Human health and the natural environment. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 20(3), 243-240. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(00)00317-2
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 9-17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 18-26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Hine, R., Sellens, M., South, N., & Griffin, M. (2005). Green exercise in the UK countryside: Effects on health and psychological well-being, and implications for policy and planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 50(2), 211-231. https://doi.org/10.1080/09640560601156466
Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(1), 99-105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.11.005
Tennessen, C. M., & Cimprich, B. (1995). Views to nature: Effects on attention. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(1), 77-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-4944(95)90016-0
Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Harvard University Press.