Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, study shows

Jun 03, 2010
Being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day is enough to significantly boost vitality levels, according to new University of Rochester psychology research. Credit: University of Rochester

Feeling sluggish? The solution may require getting outside the box - that big brick-and-mortar box called a building.

Being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, finds a series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the . And that sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of and that are often associated with our forays into the world, the studies show.

"Nature is fuel for the soul, " says Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature," he says.

The findings, adds Ryan, are important for both mental and . "Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don't just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings," says Ryan.

In recent years, numerous experimental psychology studies have linked exposure to nature with increased energy and heightened sense of well-being. For example, research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health. Other studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when placed in outdoor activities.

What is novel about this research, write the authors, is that it carefully tests whether this increased vitality associated with the outdoors is simply the feel-good spillover from physical activity and people-mixing often present in these situations. To tease out the effects of nature alone, the authors conducted five separate experiments, involving 537 college students in actual and imagined contexts. In one experiment, participants were led on a 15-minute walk through indoor hallways or along a tree-lined river path. In another, the undergraduates viewed photographic scenes of buildings or landscapes. A third experiment required students to imagine themselves in a variety of situations both active and sedentary, inside and out, and with and without others.

Two final experiments tracked participants' moods and energy levels throughout the day using diary entries. Over either four days or two weeks, students recorded their exercise, social interactions, time spent outside, and exposure to natural environments, including plants and windows.

Across all methodologies, individuals consistently felt more energetic when they spent time in natural settings or imagined themselves in such situations. The findings were particularly robust, notes Ryan; being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels. Interestingly, in the last study, the presence of nature had an independent energizing effect above that of being outdoors. In other words, conclude the authors, being outdoors was vitalizing in large part because of the presence of nature.

The paper builds on earlier research by Ryan, Netta Weinstein, a psychologist at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and others showing that people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature. "We have a natural connection with living things," says Ryan. "Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments." These studies, concludes Ryan, underscore the importance of having access to parks and natural surroundings and of incorporating natural elements into our buildings through windows and indoor plants.

Explore further: Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nature Makes Us More Caring, Study Says (w/ Video)

Sep 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Want to be a better person? Commune with nature. Paying attention to the natural world not only makes you feel better, it makes you behave better, finds a new study to be published October ...

A walk in the park a day keeps mental fatigue away

Dec 18, 2008

If you spend the majority of your time among stores, restaurants and skyscrapers, it may be time to trade in your stilettos for some hiking boots. A new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Ps ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

8 hours ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.