People have the basic need to be in touch with nature. Nature has a healing impact. Green care or nature’s care refers to the activities in nature which strengthen wellbeing and quality of life. Green care is based on old traditions. In Finland for example the treatment of tuberculosis was based on nature. People believed that being outside in fresh air and sunlight would boost healing. Taoists established healing gardens already 2000 years ago.
Aspect 1: Nature helps to recover from mental fatigue
Mental fatigue is more and more common. We are stressed and overwhelmed with the flood of impulses from e.g. social media which we need to receive daily.
Nature helps to recover from mental fatigue. Exercising and being in nature help our minds and bodies to calm down. Nature helps to recover cognitive abilities in many ways. The change of scenery makes the brain to react and become more alert. Enjoying the nature inspires the brain in new ways and affects the skin, heart rate and muscles. Nature’s harmony soothes and refreshens.
Aspect 2: Nature affects our brain
The effects of nature in the brain have been studied until 1970s. It has been discovered that nature is in contact with the physical and mental health regardless of age. The connection between nature and brain activity has been measured more as the technology for various methods for imaging the brain have developed.
EGG measurements have shown that natural scenery strengthens the alpha waves in the brain. The alpha waves increase the production of serotonin which increases the sense of pleasure. When anxious, the alpha waves are low. This can be one reason for why the people who spend a lot of time outdoors are less often diagnosed with depression.
The effect of nature on opioid receptors is similar to the effect of a small dose of morphine. In other words, nature acts the way painkillers act. Attentiveness increases after spending time outdoors. Also, cognitive performance is better after being in nature which can be due to the effect nature has on dopamine secretion. Dopamine is connected to attentiveness, discretion and other cognitive processes.
The research results from brain imaging are utilized for example in ecotherapy, therapeutic gardening as well as fishing, hiking and camping in youth work.
Aspect 3: You can enjoy green care also in urban areas
I recommend to try urban farming. You can create a garden even on the roof. There are restaurants in Helsinki, Finland, which grow herbs in their own roof gardens and use the herbs in the food they serve. Therapeutic gardening in a city environment improves physical conditions and motor skills and offer the chance to foster social relationships while building a community.
In an urban environment, house plants and herbs help to bring greenness inside. The living green walls which clean the air act as soothing design elements. The freshness and moisture which the living green wall bring improve the indoor air.
It is possible to find quiet places also in cities. Anyone can find a peaceful place when they set out to search for it. The mind rests in a quiet place. Listening to silence helps to develop self-knowledge and strengthens the connection with nature and self.
Many different nurturing landscapes can be found in cities - by the shore, in the graveyard’s silence, in an allotment or in the park. Walking in botanical gardens nurtures you. With a map it’s possible to plan walking or cycling routes so that you will be in touch with nature as much as possible.
Aspect 4: Shinrin yoku – a Japanese forest bath
In the 1980s, the Japanese developed the concept of a forest bath (shinrin yoku) to relieve stress. The forest bath refers to a 2,5-hour walk. During this time, you are supposed to walk for about five kilometers while doing awareness exercises with all your senses. You can also enjoy the forest bath alone.
The forest bath reduces blood pressure and the level of stress hormones. It soothes the nervous system and refreshens the senses. It also strengthens connection with nature and increases self-knowledge and the feeling of inner control.
The method is based on numerous research results about the healing effects of being in nature. Nature helps to improve mental wellbeing, decrease blood pressure and strengthen the immune system of cells. Plants exude phytoncide compounds which destroy harmful bacteria, fungi and yeasts in our bodies.
With a forest bath you can enjoy the antibiotic effects of the phytoncides. You will also benefit from the negative ions in nature which strengthen the immune system, decrease the level of lactates in the blood and accelerate metabolism.
Aspect 5: Nature is a source of strength for the children and the youth
Howard Gardner at the Harvard University considers the ability to understand nature as one aspect of intelligence. Observing natural phenomena, knowing the names of animals and plants and understanding how to act in different environments and weather conditions are all important skills.
Spending time outdoors increases the mental energy of the children and the youth. For example, being in a forest for only 20 minutes is beneficial for children with ADHD. Attention and cognitive abilities are on a higher level after spending time in a forest.
Countryside-environment with animals is a typical setting for treatment in child welfare. Utilizing horses is getting more common in animal-assisted nursing. Social pedagogical horseback riding works as a preventative method as well as a method for social reinforcement.
Being in nature is an important way to experience yourself and the surrounding world. Children and the youth learn self-knowledge in nature. For developing and maintaining a connection with nature, it is necessary to spend time in nature. If a child won’t develop a connection with nature they will miss out on important reserves of strength.
Nature affects all senses. Being in nature develops motor skills and imagination. Children will learn to think of nature as a place of peace and a source of joy. The materials found in nature inspire playing, games and self-expression. This improves self-esteem.
Sources and additional information:
Tuomo Salovuori (2015): Luonto kuntoutumisen tukena. Mediapinta, Tampere.
Asta Suomi, Mervi Juusola & Eevan Anundi (2016): Vihreä hoiva ja voima. Hoida mieltä green care –menetelmin. Terapia- ja valmennuskeskus Helsingin Majakka, Helsinki.