When you live in Queenstown or most places in New Zealand it is difficult to avoid a beautiful view or a tempting walk into the bush. However you may not appreciate the full benefits of being able to frequently see and interact with nature. Nations all over the globe are investing vast amounts of time and money into ‘greening’ their cities due to the growing evidence of the positive effects of nature on the mind and body. What exactly are these benefits and how can we maximise them in our day to day lives?
Gardeners for generations have relished the calm, almost meditative state experienced when gardening. Many studies have investigated the effects that houseplants have in the workplace. It has been generally found that houseplants in view whilst in the office have a positive effect on productivity and a reduction in sick leave taken. Houseplants were also shown to help promote mental renewal and attention fatigue. Greater stress reducing effects were reported when plants were located in break rooms. Even looking at images of nature and landscapes has been found to reduce stress. addition houseplants increase air quality and remove harmful toxins. Due to these many advantages of houseplants in the workplace, companies are now introducing or increasing the quantities of houseplants, especially in break rooms.
The mental health benefits of a few houseplants pale in comparison to being surrounded by nature. This may seem obvious to many but city planners are only recently paying serious attention to the benefits of ‘greenspaces’. The theories of why humans are so affected by the presence of nature generally centre around EEA (environment of evolution adaption). In short humans evolved in a nature-dependent world and the absence of any nature, which we have become accustomed to, is deemed dangerous and alien to our subconscious minds. This causes an increase of cortisol and activity in the parasympathetic nervous system putting us in a ripe state for raised stress levels especially for us biophiles (people who love plants).
With this in mind cities, such as Singapore, have extensive plans on continued greening, making parks and greenspaces readily accessible and motorway verges green and lush. The world health organisation’s 2016 review of urban green spaces and health, states that green spaces contribute to the following; improved air quality, enhanced physical activity, stress reduction, improved immune system and greater social cohesion. Good green spaces have a solid correlation with reduced cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes due to the increased levels of physical activity. Other benefits city green spaces offer are; noise buffering, production of natural sounds, reduction of urban heat and enhancement of pro-environmental behaviour. However the quality, quantity and size of green spaces has huge impact on the resulting benefits, for example a large park will have a higher amount of runners. On the other hand, unmanaged unattractive green space can have negative effects on mental health and wellness. It is in the best interests for councils and governments to invest in well planned and well maintained green space as a city with good quality green spaces attract a higher skilled workforce, raises property value and increases productivity due to the increase of public health.
Do spaces need to be green? Yes they do, a study conducted in Stanford asked half their volunteers to walk through a park and the other half to walk near traffic then scanned their brains afterwards. The scans of the volunteers who walked through a park showed reduced blood flow to the area of the brain that controls brooding, whereas the traffic volunteers saw no change. Meaning that a walk through nature can quickly improve moods and combat symptoms of depression. If that wasn’t enough to get your shoes on, spending time in nature can improve sleep quality due to exposure to the sun and getting the right amount of blue light at the right time. Women are in luck, as research has suggested that women exhibit a significantly higher increase in mental health when exposed to nature than when compared to men.
So how can we maximise all these great mental and physical health benefits? Simple, get some houseplants and put them in your relaxation spaces, place some on your desk at work and suggest you get some for your break room. Get outside and go for a walk in your local parks and nature tracks. Suggest to the council any changes and improvements you would like to see to your local green spaces. To top it off, get gardening!! Gardening and handling plants has been shown to suppress the sympathetic nervous system, which has the same effect as meditating, deep breathing and yoga, but with gardening you get the additional rewards of fruit and flowers.
If you would like to create a space in your home to maximise the renewing and regenerating effects of nature come speak to us at the garden centre, we’re all biophiles here.