Updated: Dec 8, 2020
There is an ever-increasing body of scientific evidence that Nature is good for our physical, mental and social wellbeing. Here are some of the scientific reasons why that is so.
Activity - Time in nature is usually active time, which helps make our bodies resilient and stronger. Whether we walk, run or hike, it's all good for us. Scientific research shows that exercising in nature stimulates an enzyme called telomerase, which helps regenerate DNA in our chromosomes (that carry genetic information for regeneration) and prevents age-related illnesses. In nature, our brains are in a more restorative mode and stress levels are lower, which is thought to increase telomerase levels.
Fascination - Natural scenes, large and small, offer a mental break from "doing" or "worrying" and offer time for simply "being". It reboots our brains and lowers stress levels.
Sight - The natural world is filled with intriguing objects that gain our attention but in an effortless way. Patterns known as fractals, which exist throughout nature, occupy our brain but make no demands upon it. Flowers, ferns, trees, clouds... fractals are everywhere. We're drawn to these patterns because they are easy to process, and looking at them gently takes the brain "offline", allowing it to recover.
Colour - Studies have shown that colour has an effect on our emotions. Our emotional response to colour is influenced by hue (true colour), saturation (the purity or vividness of a colour), and brightness (the degree of light a colour reflects). Colour sensors in our eyes are directly tied to the brain. Those yellow flowers do brighten up our day!
Oxygen - Our instinctive affinity with nature means that we immediately feel calmer and more at ease in a natural setting than in an artificial, human-made one. Our breathing slows down, we take in more oxygen, which "aerates" the body and helps in rejuvenation and recovery.
Smell - Plants emit scent chemicals in unique combinations, and the human nose contains around 400 different types of olfactory receptors. Inhalation is one of the most effective ways for the body to take in beneficial substances. Impulses from receptor cells travel directly to the olfactory bulb in the brain. A Japanese experiment showed that inhaling plum blossoms scent activated brain areas related to speech, memory, movement, and raised levels of happiness.
Sound - Research shows that natural sounds, in particular birdsong and moving water, have a restorative effect. Brain pathways for vocal learning in humans and birds are surprisingly similar. Evidence indicates that human language and birdsong evolved in parallel, which may have resulted in our heightened perception and appreciation of birdsong. Birdsong is associated with pleasant things like greenery, spring or summer weather, and a safe environment.
Water - We find still water calming to look at, and falling or flowing water exciting. Sound of moving water makes us feel relaxed because of the smooth way it rises and falls in intensity. Through both sight and sound, water improves our wellbeing.
Touch - Like software, the human immune system needs data to work effectively. This "data" is in the form of diverse microbes that help the immune system identify what is a threat to the body and what can be tolerated. Studies show that contact with soil gives us exposure to beneficial microbes. These microbes help make our immune system more efficient. One of the studies has linked prolonged inflammation caused by low immunity to mental health issues, including those in young people.
When we engage in nature photography, we get the wellbeing benefits of sight (fractals, colours), reboot our brain by redirecting our awareness, and feel rejuvenated because of the healing qualities of natural sounds, smells, and touch. Our bodies get more activity, more oxygen and our DNA is strengthened. In nature, there is deep wellness.