How to harness the healing power of nature In 2020, researchers at Cornell University in the US found spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting could reduced stress and anxiety and increase happiness. The study was designed to find the minimum 'nature dose' required to improve the mental health of students - and what they discovered was that those benefits could be gained from even just sitting outside.
Ecotherapy for the mind
It's little wonder then that 'ecotherapy' - the practice of working on your mental health outdoors - has been such a success story and is both recommended by mental health charity Mind and available, in some forms, on the NHS. The Mind website recommends a host of different professional options (think: gardening with your therapist or group therapy in the wilderness) but there's also plenty of science to suggest that just getting outside on it's own can help. In 2019 a review of research found the Japanese practice of 'forest bathing' (essentially spending time in a forest) could lead to a significant reduction in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While 2021 research by the RHS, University of Sheffield and University of Virginia found gardening could reduce stress and depression and boost energy - with the optimal 'dose' being to garden two to three times a week. In fact, even just watching nature can help, with research from the University of Exeter finding that simply being able to watch birds from your window was associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
Getting outside can also help improve our sleep, which can make a huge difference to our mood and focus the following day. “It's thought we need at least 30 minutes of daytime light exposure for optimal circadian rhythm (our internal body clock which tells our body when to sleep),” says Dr Mishkat Shehata, a GP and certified lifestyle physician at The Lifestyle Code Clinic.
Ecotherapy for the microbiome
Reducing stress levels by getting outdoors is also likely to have a knock-on positive impact on our microbiome. While the bacteria in our gut can impact our mental health - our mental health can also impact our microbiome, with stress being found to negatively alter the bacteria in our gut. Without realising it then, we can be caught up in a vicious cycle between stress and gut health. By getting outside and switching off we can start to turn that vicious circle into a virtuous one.
So pack yourself a picnic (or one of our mood and microbiome friendly snacks), put on some waterproofs if you need them, and get yourself outdoors.
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