How Nature Impacts Our Well-being

Nature has a much greater effect on our health than we normally think.

Philip Ostrowski, Staff Writer

In our increasingly urban, solitary, technology consumed world, many people’s mental health has been withering. Depression and anxiety has been on a major rise the past many years. Increased time inside (partly from COVID-19) and excessive time using screens increases the negative mental effects.

Gallup, an analytics and advisory company, asks Americans every year their mental health status. Back in 2019, those who had excellent/good mental health made up 85% of the population, and those who were rated excellent made up 43%.


Looking at the statistics now (from 2020), only 76% of the population rates themselves as excellent/good, down by 9%. There is a noticeable trend of Americans slowly becoming less happy in their current state due to factors like technology, politics, or their environment.

However, there is a way to help this, and possibly reverse many of the effects of over-stimulation from sources like the internet. Put away the phone, and step outside.

Nature has dozens of positive effects on the brain and body. Numerous studies have concluded that nature decreases stress, releases attention fatigue, increases creativity, and much more. 

For starters, being immersed in nature calms the mind and puts it at rest. In the study “The urban brain: analyzing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG”, scientists measured brain activity with a mobile electroencephalography (EEG) device. The device measured from multiple channels labels as “excitement (short-term), frustration, engagement, long-term excitement (or arousal) and meditation.”

The participants in the study went on a 25 minute walk through areas of Edinburgh. Separated into 3 zones, each area was unique: zone 1 was a urban shopping street, zone 2 was a path through green space, and zone 3 was a busy commercial street. It was recorded that when walking through green spaces, there was evidence of “lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation… and higher engagement when moving out of it.”

White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al

Nature is associated with better well-being and good health, and according to this study, it takes about 120 minutes per week in green spaces to see significant effects. The study took 20,000 people, and much of the data was measured by the people participating. After the 120 minute mark, a vast majority reported better health and psychological well being. “The aim of the current study was to assess these relationships with a measure based on direct exposure to natural environments, rather than residential proximity.” It’s clear to see that nature has a substantial effect on the mind.

In a study in 2012, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings”, it is stated “Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes.” The conductors of the study took 56 people, half of them spent time backpacking for 4-6 days, and the other half did not. 

The no-hike group performed a series of Remote Associates Tests. The group that went backpacking, spending time outdoors and refreshing their minds, performed far better than the pre-hike group, 47% better. This clearly “indicates that there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting.”

Rising populations and urbanization is making the process of spending outside engulfed in nature far more difficult than before. Not everyone has access to green spaces or peaceful areas, which might explain higher levels of mental illness in these higher urban areas. “Cities are associated with higher rates of most mental health problems compared to rural areas: an almost 40% higher risk of depression, over 20% more anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia, in addition to more loneliness, isolation and stress.”

So I encourage you to make the effort to get outside when you can. It can do wonders for the soul and mind. Taking a walk, or a hike, a swim or anything of the sort can be quite refreshing. There is a lot more to the mind and mental health than many think, and the effect of nature is one idea that not many know about.