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A Flourishing Life

Nature provides us with health and happiness; it has been hailed as a teacher and healer for millennia by peoples all over world. The chirping of birds, a hike in the mountains and the power of trees can make all the difference.

1. Fit? Naturally!

Small effort, huge effect: British scientists have discovered that those who spend two hours per week in nature will improve their health and well-being. The effects described by Mathew P. White and his co-authors from the University of Exeter in the scientific journal “Nature” are impressive: time spent in nature will ameliorate depression and anxiety; it lowers blood pressure and the risk of other illnesses. In addition, nature fosters creativity and cognitive function. The good news for the non-athlete: one can reap these health benefits regardless of whether one lies under a tree or runs through the park. The surroundings alone bring about the relaxation, and two consecutive hours are just as effective as several shorter exposures. For the purpose of this study, the researchers analyzed a survey of 20,000 respondents. Those who spent a minimum of two hours per week outside were much more likely to feel healthy and well than the couch potatoes.

2. Houseplants Provide Distraction

Lots of green at home helps us handle stress better, as suggested by the study conducted by an international research group and published in the professional journal “Urban Forestry & Urban Greening”. During the first phase of the COVID lockdowns – specifically, the months between March and June 2020 – the team interviewed more than 4,200 people from 46 countries with respect to their living situations. During this time, people were very restricted in their movements and allowed to leave their homes to a limited extent only. The result: “Having indoor plants was correlated with more positive emotions, and confined inhabitants allocated more time for plant maintenance“, write the scientists. In contrast, more negative emotions were reported by participants who lived in small apartments with minimal daylight and without plants. Plants are simply good for you!

3. Birds Chirping Against Stress

The song of the skylark, the gentle splashing of the waves or a soft breeze in the leaves – the sounds of nature are not only pleasant, they promote health. According to a new American survey study, published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America“ (PNAS), humans feel less pain and stress if they are surrounded by natural sounds. Indeed, even their mood and cognitive performance improved. The chirping of birds, the study has shown, is the best remedy against stress and upset. The sounds of water, on the other hand, have positive effects on blood pressure as well as pain perception. Scientists feel that evolution may be able to explain these positive effects. They write that “natural acoustic surroundings provide signals of safety and security – an ordered world without danger, which, in turn, allows control over one’s psychological state, as well as the amelioration of stress-induced behavior and mental recovery.”

4. Hiking – the Miracle Cure

Several studies on the impact of walking in nature have demonstrated the healing effects of hiking. According to the study “Evaluation of Hiking for Health”, conducted in 2014 at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, more than 60 percent of respondents felt less stressed following a hike, and 73 percent adopted a more optimistic outlook on life. The fact that hiking in the mountains may even act as a fountain of youth on the body was proven by scientists at the University of Colorado and their research project “AltitudeOmics”. According to this study, a two-week-long stay at high altitude led to lasting changes in the metabolism of red blood cells (erythrocytes). In fact, this adjustment effect persisted long past the actual stay at elevated altitudes, and participants reported feeling fitter during later hikes in the mountains.

5. Strong As a Tree

The Japanese people have long sworn by “forest bathing” and its associated medicinal benefits. They credit terpenes with the power of healing – these are signal molecules which trees employ to communicate with each other. Researchers at the University of Sheffield and Flinders University in Adelaide have recently discovered that the “filter effect” of trees may be able to protect humans from pathogenic bacteria. As Jake M. Robinson and his colleagues report in “Nature”, the air sampled from the forested areas of a city park near Adelaide contains more species of bacteria with fewer potential human pathogens than the air above nearby playing fields. Trees appear to filter the microbial communities in a certain air space and thus lower the risk of exposure to microbes that cause disease. At the same time, trees also appear to increase microbial diversity in the air. The scientists’ conclusion: more trees within cities could strengthen people’s immune systems – and thus substantially benefit our health.