We have long been aware of the positive effects spending time outdoors can have on our mental health and wellbeing, and now there is an eye-opening new study which has confirmed our beliefs and made that a fact.
The pioneering project has scientifically proven, for the first time ever, that being outdoors has a positive effect on our mental health. We are talking about long country walks, being amongst nature, listening to bird song, gardening and exposing ourselves to the sky (whatever the weather).
On Tuesday 9th January'sBBC Breakfast programme on BBC One, neuroscientist Dr Andrea Michelli was on the sofa talking about the project's findings. He explained that, although we have known about the positive link between the great outdoors and mental health for a while, the actual evidence has been poor, due to unrealistic methods of gathering qualitative data.
The new project is based on an app called Urban Mind which has been used to track users' movements through their mobile devices. It also randomly prompts the individuals taking part to answer questions about where they are, what they can see and how they feel at certain times.
Overall, the study found a strong link between exposure to nature and wellbeing. But, in addition, Dr Michelli highlighted two more granular findings that are particularly interesting.
Firstly, the positive effects of a single exposure to nature – for example, a walk, run or stint in the garden – can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it. This refers to feeling happier and in good spirits.
That means that walking to work in the morning, or taking the dog for a stroll first thing, can really leave you feeling happier all day. Great news.
Secondly, not everyone will have the same reaction after exposure to nature. Most interestingly, those individuals at greater risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, benefit more from getting outdoors than others.
This is a really important finding and will be useful in helping patients to overcome their mental health issues. It can help people who are prone to periods of unease adapt their lifestyle to better suit their mental needs.
Paul Brook was also on the BBC Breakfast sofa, talking about how birdwatching helped him overcome his anxiety.
"It's really good to give you a different perspective. I spend a lot of my time at a desk," he explained. "To get outside is a positive distraction and you can see birds and animals and be near water and be near trees. There's a lot to see, a lot to distract your senses and a lot to take you away from the turmoil that's going on like a washing machine in your head."
Paul said that he finds the mindful element of walking and birdwatching really helps too. He often finds himself engrossed in the moment – be that on a cliff on the East Coast or in a wild flower meadow – far removed from the daily grind.
Dr Michelli hopes that the project can help to better inform policy and help create diverse treatment plans for patients. The results are now published in the BioScience journal.
Meanwhile, as we were, everyone!
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