Science

Nature linked to boosting mental health

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Spending time outside in nature shown to boost mental health. Credit: Holly Giles
A new study published by the University of Tokyo shows spending more time in nature is linked to better mental health

By Emma Williams | Contributor

Published in the Ecological Applications journal, a new study by the University of Tokyo has revealed a correlation between increased engagement with nature and better mental health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted public mental health in many ways: physical distancing and restrictions on the amount of time spent outdoors, as well as fears and anxiety of contracting the COVID‐19 virus. It has become necessary to find ways of improving public mental  health during these dark times. Consequently, Soga et al. created an online questionnaire to measure the link between experiences of nature (the frequency of green-space use and green views through windows at home) and five mental- health outcomes (life satisfaction, self-esteem, loneliness, depression and anxiety, and subjective happiness). Their hypothesis stated that nature around the home may play a key role in mitigating against the risk of adverse mental health outcomes. This stemmed from growing empirical evidence of human health and well‐being benefits of direct experiences with nature.

Completed by 3,000 adults in Tokyo, Japan, the questionnaire, which consisted of likert scales, confirmed that more frequent green-space use and the existence of green views from home windows are indeed associated with improvements in mental health in spite of the pandemic. Specifically the connection reflected that increased experience and use of nature increased levels of life satisfaction, subjective happiness, and self-esteem, as well as decreasing loneliness, depression and anxiety levels.

Lead author Dr. Masashi Soga PhD, of The University of Tokyo, highlighted the importance of the study results in light of the pandemic:

“Our results suggest that nearby nature can serve as a buffer in decreasing the adverse impacts of a very stressful event on humans,”

adding,

“protecting natural environments in urban areas is important not only for the conservation of biodiversity, but also for the protection of human health.”

It seems that the implications of this study will therefore have major implications for policy, as Soga et al. reflect, “knowing how “more immediate” (physically present in a natural environment) and “less immediate” (viewing nature through a window) nature experiences are associated with improved mental health outcomes might allow us to design urban areas and nature‐based interventions and programs for “happier” urban populations”.

The positive effects of nature are significant, demonstrating the fact that even when a pandemic is not occurring – we could all do with spending more time outside in green space. The study also suggests that there should be more green spaces created within urban environments for the benefit of collective mental health.

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