We don’t need a scientist to tell us that flowers and chirping birds make us feel good. But if the benefits of getting outside are so intuitive, why don’t more of us do it? Nature-based recreation has declined 35 percent in the U.S. in the past four decades, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We underestimate the curative effects, or perhaps we’re just too readily beguiled by the easy entertainments of technology. But will having more data about how nature works on our bodies lure us into the woods? We know we’re supposed to eat more leafy greens, but most of us don’t.
The kale analogy is pretty apt, because it turns out that even when we don’t enjoy spending time in nature, like during lousy winter conditions, we benefit from it just the same. At least that’s what Toronto’s Berman found when research subjects took walks in an arboretum on a blustery winter day. The walkers didn’t really enjoy themselves, but they still performed much better on tests measuring short-term memory and attention.
Additionally, according to much of the literature available on the topic of the built environment’s effect on health (and believe me, there is, indeed, much), green spaces appear to have psychological benefits as well, increasing the general sense of mental well-being of the residents, though the exact causes are not known. In the Netherlands, a large study showed that a “more natural environment” benefitted all age groups, but especially the elderly and youth.