Get outta town: New study compares the different health benefits of urban green spaces, rural locations, and coastal areas

For city dwellers like most of us, taking a vacation means going to the mountains or the beach. Why we choose to have a change in view, from urban to rural, is now proven by science. By spending time in locations that are close to nature, our overall health is improved.

The study behind it

According to researchers at several universities in England, individuals who experienced more than 30 minutes of exposure to nature had an improved state of mind, or mental well-being. As compared to those who only took time at city gardens or parks, people who invested in resting at rural locations reported greater psychological contentment.

The test included over 4,500 individuals who were asked to evaluate their encounters with nature and record how the different environmental settings affected them. Researchers found that prolonged trips to eco-centric locations provided much more stress relief and outstanding feelings of contentment due to the individual’s heightened connection to the natural world. Disregarding socioeconomic status, anyone can enjoy nature, especially when the natural sites are free-for-all (no entrance fees).

Nature can be highly beneficial to human beings, but Dr. Kayleigh Wyles, lecturer in Environmental Psychology, says it is still being explored as to how and why it is that way. The effects on mental health may be different depending on the type and quality of the environment itself. The findings of the study are important as they help us understand why there are psychological benefits to nature. It will also help further the prioritization for maintenance and protection of these natural environments.

Ecotherapy, an idea of connecting to nature to promote well-being, isn’t new, but is definitely revolutionary. Previous studies show that our affiliation with nature is established in our biology and genetics. Further studies may improve on the concept of eco-therapy, and promote its basic yet extraordinary capacity towards health. Nature, as we know it, may really be a part of “human nature.”

Benefits of taking a “natural” vacation

To understand this fully, here is a list of benefits from spending time with nature, or taking a “natural” vacation:

  • Strength – Taking an outdoor vacation helps you improve on your physical aspect. Carrying a backpack will help you strengthen your back and your limbs, while climbing and trekking long trails will help you achieve the right heart rate for optimum health.
  • Perception – For children, especially, having a fair share of time with nature may have a positive effect on eyesight, by reducing the risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness. An Australian study that followed 2,000 school children for two years reported that those who spent more time outdoors had a lower prevalence of myopia.
  • Endurance – Not only does taking nature walks increase your strength, but it also helps your body endure more. There is a decreased chance of taking painkillers when the body chooses to fight a disease or anything pain-inducing, therefore strengthening our immune system and overall physical endurance. With a healthy vacation like a trip to the mountains or to the beach, your body allows more natural development, away from city pollutants that inhibit development.
  • Intelligence – Intelligence is part of the whole eco-therapy deal, because allowing yourself sufficient time with nature helps hasten your decision-making skills. Hiking and spelunking requires not only physical strength, but mental strength and confidence as well. Being able to decide quickly might save a life, especially in more dangerous types of expeditions.
  • Agility – If you’re strong and tolerant, you still won’t make it without agility. Quick reflexes to natural events such as landslides or simply tripping on a rock can determine if you’ll get through life or not. Nature trips may prove effective when it comes to training your mind, but you’ll have to train your body to be fast too, if you want to achieve overall wellness. With sedentary lifestyles spreading like wildfire, you’ll benefit a lot from having that quick reflex during a disaster.

Studies on natural health, the natural environment, and its effects on humankind’s health and well-being will prove useful, especially with the modern world’s uncertainty. Eat right, exercise regularly, and take that long-overdue family trip to that forest you’ve been dying to see!

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