Among the many things that have helped me keep me sane and grounded in the past year is getting debt out of the house and spending time in nature. Fortunately, since I live in California, I benefit from attractive sunny weather most days of the year. I’m also fortunate to live in a neighborhood connected to a 6,000-acre regional park, which makes it easy and comfortable to go for short hikes or hike in the hills. And the 30-inch deep blown pool that I bought online at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine allowed me to float on weekends all summer. I haven’t spent much time outdoors since I was a kid. During these times, I often find myself reading a favorite quote from biologist and author Rachel Carson: “There is something limitless healing in nature’s frequent abstinence – the assertion that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
And I am not the only one to feel these effects. Over the past few months – as we have all spent more time indoors and isolated from others – I’ve seen more and more written in the public press about nature’s benefits to health and mental well-being, and I’ve repeatedly shed light on practices from countries where this connection is celebrated as part of their culture. For example, in Japan, “shinrin-yuko,” or “bathing in the woods,” is a physiological and psychological practice of spending time physically in forests, to help counter the daily stresses of a fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle. In fact, doctors prescribe Shinrin-yuko as part of their treatment plans. In the Scandinavian countries, the word “friluftsliv”, which literally translates as “freedom, air, and life” or more clearly an “outside way of life”, is deeply rooted in the Norwegian way of life. It is one of the many things researchers attribute to why Norway is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.
Published a 2019 study titled “Spend 120 minutes a week in Nature, Good Health and Well-being” Scientific ReportsNot only has it validated what many cultures know instinctively but it has determined exactly how much time one would need to spend outdoors to reap the benefits. The research, which included 20,000 people, found that those who spent at least two hours a week in green spaces or surrounded by other natural elements were more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who did not. The researchers saw no benefit in those who spent less than two hours of time outdoors.
This link between nature and health has always been part of the Health Design Center’s work. Roger Ulrich, author of the 1984 classic study of the effect of views through a window on post-operative recovery, was a founding member of the center’s board of directors. In the mid-1990s, the center funded the first-ever rigorous post-occupancy assessment of hospital gardens, by Claire Cooper Marcus and Marney Barnes, which linked the incorporation of gardens and other landscape features into designs to health benefits for patients, visitors and employees, as well as financial benefits for the institution.
Incorporating nature into our built environments has never been more important than it is today, for both our communities and our workspaces. These benefits go beyond being differential factors to being very important components of both built environments and clinical treatment plans. Equally important, it provides a comfortable space for employees that provides an opportunity for their physical and emotional recovery
Fortunately, there are a plethora of books and resources available to provide inspiration and roadmaps for healthcare providers and designers. In the Insights and Solutions section of the center’s website, you can find a wide range of webinars, interviews, project briefs, and more that illustrate the relationship between nature and health and highlight innovative examples of how it has been incorporated into a variety of healthcare projects. Our knowledge repository contains over 100 research citations on the topic, nearly half of which contain summaries of corresponding key points. For more inspiration, visit healinglandscapes.org for a variety of resources as well as a guide to projects in your area.
When the weather gets better and the days are longer, reward yourself with more time outdoors. You may find yourself not only healthier but less stressed, sleeping better, and in a happier mood.
Debra Levine is the President and CEO of the Center for Wellness Design. It can be accessed at [email protected].